Are You A Political Extremist?

This column originally appeared in The Observer Magazine /Guardian Online

Are You A Political Extremist?

We can find out by gauging your accuracy at guessing numbers:

  1. Mount Everest is more than 2,000 feet tall. Estimate the height of Mount Everest.
  2. Fewer than 50,000 babies are born each day in the USA. Estimate the number of babies born each day in the USA.

The correct answers are given at the bottom of the page.

2718962-2086890377-extre

If, like most people, you seriously under-estimated the first figure and seriously over-estimated the second, then you are mostly likely not a political extremist. If you (a) showed the opposite pattern, (b) under- or over-estimated both, or (c) were pretty close, then you are likely on either the hard left or the hard right.

A very-well-known psychological phenomenon is the anchoring effect. For most of us, hearing a relatively low or high number (e.g., 2,000 feet; 50,000 babies) anchors our frame-of-reference, causing us to go too high and too low respectively when making a subsequent estimate. But a recent study found that political extremists – whether on the left or right – are less susceptible to anchoring effects, presumably because they are more confident in their own beliefs, and less susceptible to outside influences.

Brandt, M. J., Evans, A. M., & Crawford, J. T. (2015). The Unthinking or Confident Extremist? Political Extremists Are More Likely Than Moderates to Reject Experimenter-Generated Anchors. Psychological Science26(2): 189-202.

Answers: 29,029 feet; 11,000 babies

2 Comments

  1. It’s now late March of 2016 and the 2 leading GOP candidates running for nomination as the Republican contender for the November US Presidential election are both considered political extremists and both are extremely confident in their own personal beliefs even in the face of indisputable fact so far less susceptible to the anchoring effect, as are their most fervent supporters. Hmmm…

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