Metacognitive Failure as a Feature of Those Holding Radical Beliefs

Curr Biol. 2018 Dec 17;28(24):4014-4021.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.053.


Widening polarization about political, religious, and scientific issues threatens open societies, leading to entrenchment of beliefs, reduced mutual understanding, and a pervasive negativity surrounding the very idea of consensus [1, 2]. Such radicalization has been linked to systematic differences in the certainty with which people adhere to particular beliefs [3-6]. However, the drivers of unjustified certainty in radicals are rarely considered from the perspective of models of metacognition, and it remains unknown whether radicals show alterations in confidence bias (a tendency to publicly espouse higher confidence), metacognitive sensitivity (insight into the correctness of one's beliefs), or both [7]. Within two independent general population samples (n = 381 and n = 417), here we show that individuals holding radical beliefs (as measured by questionnaires about political attitudes) display a specific impairment in metacognitive sensitivity about low-level perceptual discrimination judgments. Specifically, more radical participants displayed less insight into the correctness of their choices and reduced updating of their confidence when presented with post-decision evidence. Our use of a simple perceptual decision task enables us to rule out effects of previous knowledge, task performance, and motivational factors underpinning differences in metacognition. Instead, our findings highlight a generic resistance to recognizing and revising incorrect beliefs as a potential driver of radicalization.

Keywords: change of mind; cognitive flexibility; confidence; metacognition; politics; post-decision evidence; radicalism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Culture*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Metacognition*
  • Middle Aged
  • Politics*
  • Young Adult