The Psychology That Leads People to Vote for Extremists & Autocrats: The Theory of Cognitive Closure

in PoliticsPsychology | November 30th, 2016.

There's a political disconnect in the United States. We have two political parties, each now living in its own reality and working with its own set of facts. The common ground between them? Next to none.

How to explain this disconnect? Maybe the answer lies in the theory of “cognitive closure”–a theory first worked out by social psychologist Arie Kruglanski back in 1989.

“People’s politics are driven by their psychological needs,” Kruglanski explains in the short documentary above. “People who are anxious because of the uncertainty that surrounds them are going to be attracted to messages that offer certainty.”

He sips a soda, then continues, “The need for closure is the need for certainty, to have clear cut knowledge. You feel that you need to stop processing too much information, to stop listening to a variety of viewpoints, and zero in on what appears to be, to you, the truth.” “The need for closure tricks your mind to believe you have the truth, even though you haven’t examined the evidence very carefully.” And that, unfortunately, can be very dangerous.

Kruglanski’s theory could help explain the rise of Nazism in the economically-depressed Weimar Germany. And it’s perhaps why, across much of our economically stagnating world, we’re seeing populations lurch toward extreme ideologies and autocratic personalities. “The divisions, the polarization, it’s all part of the same psychological syndrome,” says Kruglanski.

So what’s the cure? Listen to other points of view. Look at all available information. And, most of all, be suspicious of your own sense of righteous.

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