Study shows people with violent extremist views may have worse cognitive abilities

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People with extremist views who endorse violence towards others may suffer from worse cognitive abilities including working memory, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Cambridge.

Those who hold dogmatic and extreme ideological beliefs were also found to be worse at taking evidence into account when making non-political decisions, and were more impulsive than others.

The study led scientists to believe that a person’s deep-rooted psychology has a great deal to do with their political leanings.

Researchers studied a group of 334 US residents by administering 37 cognitive tests which had nothing to do with politics or ideology – assessing factors like working memory and evidence-gathering skills.

After two years had passed, the same group was quizzed about their political beliefs and asked to rate how strongly they agreed with statements such as ‘I would sacrifice my life if it saved another American's life’.

The results published in the paper entitled ‘The cognitive and perceptual correlates of ideological attitudes: a data-driven approach,’ showed that a person’s cognitive ability was a far better way of predicting their ideological beliefs than demographics such as age or gender.

People who held extreme views in favor of their own ‘group,’ supporting violence against others outside the group, were found to have worse working memory, were slower to perceive new information, and tended to be more impulsive.

Those who tested high in the dogmatism category of the ideological surveys were found to be slower at accumulating evidence when making decisions, and less likely to take social risks.

Participants who reported being politically conservative were likely to exercise more caution in the cognitive tests, taking more time to gather evidence before making a decision.

“This [study] may offer key insights for nuanced educational programs aimed at fostering humility and social understanding,” the authors of the paper wrote.

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