People with radical political views can’t tell when they’re wrong

People who hold radical political views both on the far left and far right aren’t as good as moderates at knowing when they’re wrong

  • Participants with radical political views asked to take part in learning test 
  • People with moderate views also took part after the two groups did a survey 
  • Those with more radical beliefs weren’t as good at recognising they were wrong
  •  There was no difference between the two groups on task performance in test
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People who hold radical political views, on both the left and right of the political spectrum, aren’t as good at recognising when they’re wrong.

A new study, conducted by University College London, suggested that people with more radical beliefs tended to overestimate their certainty on incorrect answers.

People with extreme political views were asked to participate in a learning task alongside people with more moderate views. 

Between the two groups there was no difference on task performance, however, the people with more radical views showed less awareness of when they were incorrect.

Their study was an attempt to measure ‘metacognition’ – the term for a person’s ability to recognise when they are wrong. 

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People who hold radical political views – at either end of the political spectrum – aren’t as good at recognising when they’re wrong. A new study, conducted by University College London, found that people with more radical beliefs tend to overestimate their certainty on incorrect answers (stock image)

They wanted to establish whether radical beliefs were down to overconfidence in those specific opinions, or more general differences in metacognition. 

To reach their conclusion, the team conducted a survey of 381 people took part to measure their political beliefs and attitude towards alternative world views.  

Researchers were then able to identify people at the extreme right and extreme left of the spectrum. 

The participants were then asked to complete a task requiring them to look at two sets of dots and judge which one had more dots.

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They were then asked to rate how confident they were in making their choice, and were told to judge their confidence accurately with a monetary reward.

The people with more radical beliefs performed the same as the moderates, but they gave higher confidence ratings when they had made an incorrect choices.

Radicals’ confidence on correct answers was similar to that of moderates. 

‘We were trying to clarify whether people who hold radical political beliefs are generally overconfident in their stated beliefs, or if it boils down to differences in metacognition, which is the ability we have to recognise when we might be wrong,’ said lead author Dr Steve Fleming from UCL.

People with radical views were asked to participate in an experimental study with those with more moderate views in a learning task. The experiment was designed to test people on a task completely unrelated to politics, to home in on cognitive processes without any political motivations (stock image)

‘We found that people who hold radical political beliefs have worse metacognition than those with more moderate views. 

‘They often have a misplaced certainty when they’re actually wrong about something, and are resistant to changing their beliefs in the face of evidence that proves them wrong.’      

A second stage of the study assessed how participants took in new evidence. 

After making a judgement on the dots task, participants were shown another set of dots as ‘bonus’ information about the correct answer, before making their confidence judgement.

The results of the study found that people with more radical beliefs performed the same as the people with moderate views, but the radicals gave higher confidence ratings when they had made an incorrect choices (stock image)

If they had made an incorrect choice, the next set of dots should have weakened their confidence in their choice.

For moderates who had made the wrong decision the first time, being shown this bonus information made them less confident in their choice. 

However, radicals held onto their initial decision even after seeing evidence suggesting it was incorrect.  

The researchers highlight that previous studies have found no relationship between metacognition and general intelligence. 

‘An important point is that our findings held true among participants with radical views at either end of the political spectrum,’ said co-author Professor Ray Dolan. 

He added: ‘Radicalism appears to reflect a cognitive style that transcends political inclinations.’ 

In addition to this study, a further 417 people were used in a second similar experiment which replicated the findings.

The findings were published in Current Biology.  


The ‘Big Five’ personality traits are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The Big Five personality framework theory uses these descriptors to outline the broad dimensions of people’s personality and psyche.

Beneath each broad category is a number of correlated and specific factors.

Here are the five main points: 

Openness – this is about having an appreciation for emotion, adventure and unusual ideas.

People who are generally open have a higher degree of intellectual curiosity and creativity.

They are also more unpredictable and likely to be involved in risky behaviour such as drug taking.

Conscientiousness – people who are conscientiousness are more likely to be organised and dependable.

These people are self-disciplined and act dutifully, preferring planned as opposed to spontaneous behaviour.

They can sometimes be stubborn and obsessive.

Extroversion – these people tend to seek stimulation in the company of others and are energetic, positive and assertive.

They can sometimes be attention-seeking and domineering.

Individuals with lower extroversion are reserved, and can be seen as aloof or self-absorbed.

Agreeableness – these individuals have a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative as opposed to antagonistic towards other people.

Sometimes people who are highly agreeable are seen as naive or submissive.

People who have lower levels of agreeableness are competitive or challenging.

Neuroticisim – People with high levels of neuroticism are prone to psychological stress and get angry, anxious and depressed easily.

More stable people are calmer but can sometimes be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned.

Individuals with higher neuroticism tend to have worse psychological well-being.

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