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

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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Comments (9)
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  • Virginia Howard says:

    The sen­tence: “And, most of all, be sus­pi­cious of your own sense of right­eous”, should read: your own sense of *the* right­eous, or — your own sense of *right­eous­ness*.

  • Nona says:

    I miss when this site had posts that weren’t about Trump. It’s just a bit of an over­load, we already see him every­where we look in the media.

  • Bill W. says:

    If you don’t even know your can­di­date’s polit­i­cal-plat­form, and are just vot­ing for them because they have a cer­tain let­ter (D/R/L/G) after their name, does­n’t say uncom­fort­able things, agrees with EVERYTHING you believe (whether it’s true or not), or has a cool bumper stick­er-slo­gan, etc…please, DON’T vote!!!

  • Peter Gna says:

    The whole prob­lem with the world is that fools and fanat­ics are always so cer­tain of them­selves, but wis­er peo­ple so full of doubts.
    (Bertrand Rus­sell)

  • brad says:

    While the caus­es are undoubt­ed­ly the cat­a­stroph­ic right wing eco­nom­ic fail­ures from both par­ties in every coun­try — neolib­er­al­ism is a pret­ty extreme, fun­da­men­tal­ist, hands-free ide­ol­o­gy — the bat­tle seems to be over cul­ture and iden­ti­ty, which inci­den­tal­ly was one of the few things that seemed cer­tain.

    I think the turn­ing point came with Occu­py in 2011. Had we made sub­stan­tial eco­nom­ic changes in response to the banks crash­ing the glob­al econ­o­my in an orgy of fraud, the present would have a bet­ter chance of a pos­i­tive out­come.

    The new cer­tain­ty: the eco­nom­ic phi­los­o­phy will not change under any cir­cum­stances, and as a result of con­tin­u­ing stag­na­tion and per­pet­u­al decline in the west, extreme vio­lence and war is all but cer­tain. It’s mind-blow­ing. I pray I’m wrong.

  • bogdan says:

    cog­ni­tive clo­sure (like the cur­rent notion of “post-truth”) is a con­se­quence and is inher­ent to the pseu­do-demo­c­ra­t­ic process — the false word, or the non-word of the peo­ple (democ­ra­cy manifested/understood as elec­tion and vote). and brand­ing false images is essen­tial in this pseu­do-democ­ra­cy. not hav­ing a word (to say), peo­ple must have and form only an image of their free­dom and pow­er. a (irra­tional) rep­re­sen­ta­tion ‑described with the con­tra­dic­to­ry polit­i­cal term of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy..
    repressed and with­out the word, peo­ple man­i­fest their wish for free­dom and pow­er in a repres­sive form, pas­sive­ly (and pas­sion­ate­ly) pro­ject­ing dis­tort­ed and con­struct­ed images and hopes. pseo­do-democ­ra­cy can be even more dis­as­trous than non-democ­ra­cy.

  • Randy says:

    “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”

    Except all that does is make me aware of my own bias­es, while every­one else con­tin­ues on with theirs…

  • Richard Reiss says:

    Long expla­na­tion of a fix:

    Short expla­na­tion: make peo­ple gov­ern them­selves

    Rel­a­tive­ly brief expla­na­tion of how pol­i­tics works, and why this elec­tion hap­pened. From 2005, but since we basi­cal­ly have the same elec­tion every 4 years (with vary­ing results), it still works.

    The time­less recipe for total­i­tar­i­an­ism, explained sim­ply:

  • Hanoch says:

    I agree that we must ana­lyze “oth­er points of view” and “all avail­able infor­ma­tion”. One major obsta­cle to this, how­ev­er, is that our edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions have become almost total­ly illib­er­al (in the clas­sic sense of that term) indoc­tri­na­tion cen­ters that are not con­cerned with true edu­ca­tion. Almost all pro­fes­sors hired by col­leges reside on the left of the polit­i­cal spec­trum, restric­tive speech codes are enact­ed on cam­pus, out­side speak­ers who do not adhere to left­ist ide­ol­o­gy are barred or “dis­in­vit­ed” from speak­ing on cam­pus (or, if they even make it that far, are shout­ed down by left­ist ide­o­logues who will not tol­er­ate the expres­sion of ideas with which they dis­agree). Most on the left have no desire to rein­vig­o­rate true lib­er­al edu­ca­tion because, ulti­mate­ly, they are con­cerned with obtain­ing pow­er, not pur­su­ing truth.

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