Over the years, regimes like Mussolini’s and Hitler’s Third Reich have taught us that extremism isn’t the way to go when it comes to world politics. However, recent political scenarios across the globe show us extreme polarization of political ideologies. The Democrats, the Republicans, the left, right, and centre seem to be moving farther away than ever before and although that might seem inconsequential, it is a threat to the very idea of contemporary world politics.
Neuropolitics and Psychopolitics are new fields that apply principles of neuroscience and human psychology to study, understand, and analyze political phenomenon. The 2016 elections in the United States have been widely examined from a scientific as well as a psychological perspective and have led to revelations about how voters form political opinions across the globe. So, why do we have unflinching beliefs over ideologies we don’t often completely agree with? And what exactly shapes our beliefs about “the other side”?
Here are some ways our brain encodes, interprets, and often manipulates our beliefs, ideas and political inclinations, as explained by science.
Political Motive Asymmetry: a psychological phenomenon which explains how intractable conflicts stem from misunderstanding the motivations of the opposite group. In other words, it is one group’s belief that their rivals are motivated by emotions opposite to their own. For example, if you believe that your ideology is based on and motivated by ideas of love, peace and harmony then your opposite group must be motivated by hatred, conflict and separatism. A report by the Pew Research Center shows that the gap between both parties’ views has widened across almost every major policy issue over the last 23 years, from their opinions on big government to the place of immigrants in American society, which leads voters to believe that the political system is reaching a breaking point -failing at it’s true purpose.
Dehumanization: the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities; is another psychological tendency which can lead to “us versus them” mentalities. It happens when we spontaneously push out people who are not in our in-group, ignoring their own thoughts and emotions. Dehumanization is not something new to mankind; the consequences of systematic dehumanization of one racial, religious or ideological group in a society have been suffered by many in history. The Holocaust continues to be a horrific memory of a case of extreme dehumanization. When this is manifested politically, we get to a climate, as we currently have, where people feel that their opinions are continuously labeled and attached to divisive political semantics.
Cultural Tightness: an idea demonstrated by Michele Gelfand, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, says that when people perceive higher threat levels, they attach their political loyalties to leaders who promise tighter rules, greater strength, and a more authoritarian approach. This change in political behavior is also accompanied by a desire for stricter social norms and low tolerance for unlawful behavior. As threat perception increases, even cultures with high tolerance and lenient norms begin to tighten up.
We, as the global citizens of the world, can control the influence of our biases and psychological tendencies on our political decisions by simply being aware of our own brain’s tendency towards its various biases. This can go a long way in allowing us to debate and discuss ideas and exercise our freedom of speech without being labeled as a liberal, a conservative or any certain way.
Tolerance continues to be the raison d’être of modern society. However, only when we move beyond tolerance to a scenario where we respect and understand the plurality of ideas and ways of life, will we truly achieve a society in which everyone moves towards growth.
By Nandini Pandey