Psychologists Map Out Underlying Traits to Identify Violent Extremists

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(CN) — A new study released Sunday uncovered a “psychological signature” of those who hold extreme and violent ideological beliefs, revealing a combination of unconscious cognition and personality traits that could help identify and treat those who are more likely to act violently.

The research comes after last month’s Capitol riots that left five people dead in the wake of Donald Trump supporters and QAnon conspiracy believers who attempted to stop the confirmation of President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

In the study published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the research team from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. discovered mental characteristics common in violent extremists, including slow “perceptual strategies — the unconscious processing of changing stimuli,” poor working memory and traits such as impulsiveness and sensation seeking.

The psychologists were able to map out psychological signatures of those prone to violent conservative extremism and “dogmatism,” those who are unlikely to believe in evidence and carry a fixed view of the world.

“Brains of more dogmatic people are slower to process perceptual evidence, but they are more impulsive personality-wise. The mental signature for extremism across the board is a blend of conservative and dogmatic psychologies, the researchers said in a statement that accompanied the study.

The research team said while testing is still occurring, a potential map of psychological traits could be used to help identify and treat those vulnerable to political and religious extremism. Modern approaches to predict extremism only use demographic information such as race, age or gender. The scientists said this new method could be four to 15 times more accurate.

“Many people will know those in their communities who have become radicalised or adopted increasingly extreme political views, whether on the left or right. We want to know why particular individuals are more susceptible,” said Leor Zmigrod, lead author from the university. “By examining ‘hot’ emotional cognition alongside the ‘cold’ unconscious cognition of basic information processing we can see a psychological signature for those at risk of engaging with an ideology in an extreme way.”

“There appear to be hidden similarities in the minds of those most willing to take extreme measures to support their ideological doctrines. Understanding this could help us to support those individuals vulnerable to extremism, and foster social understanding across ideological divides,” she added.

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