University of Cambridge

Hard Brexiter or ardent Remainer? Psychologists aim to find out what drives our political ideologies

Now, researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge have launched an online survey looking at the relationship between political attitudes and cognitive thinking styles, exploring different aspects of our personalities and our cognitive abilities, as well as our attitudes towards Brexit and the issues that surround it.

The survey is a follow-up to a recent study carried out by the team during the US elections, which looked at issues relating to Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton’s respective campaigns. The researchers are currently analysing the data from 800 respondents who completed the survey.

“The events of this year have really highlighted how strongly people feel about certain political issues,” explains Leor Zmigrod, a PhD student at the Department, who is leading the research. “We are interested in how these attitudes might relate to individuals’ identities and thinking styles.”

The survey asks questions on everything from attitudes towards the Monarchy, the EU and religion, to how much you agree it is acceptable to fight someone making fun of Britain, and to how anxious, creative or disorganised you consider yourself to be. It also includes cognitive games that look at your cognitive thinking style.

“It’s important to stress that this isn’t about making judgements about ideologies,” adds Zmigrod, “it’s about understanding how they arise.”

Dr Jason Rentfrow, Zmigrod’s supervisor, adds: “We think of ideologies usually in relation to politics, but in fact they come into many areas of our lives. We want to find out what links people to their ideologies and what drives them to protect their nation and communities in different ways.”

“It will be interesting to see if we can determine how basic cognitive styles relate to our political thinking,” says Professor Trevor Robbins, Head of Psychology, and Zmigrod’s advisor.


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