[ Cognitive Polarization ] Study finds coronavirus-related polarization is stronger among people higher in cognitive ability

New psychology research indicates that cognitive ability exacerbates political polarization in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, published in Intelligence, found that people with greater verbal ability tended to have more polarized responses, which may be related to their selective consumption of partisan media.


In the present two studies, we conducted a novel investigation of ability-related polarization using multiple cognitive abilities simultaneously. To the best of our knowledge, Study 2 was also the first study to document ability-related polarization emerging over time rather than simply measuring polarization in existing, long-standing beliefs. We found evidence that: 1) cognitive ability exacerbated political polarization in risk perceptions, affect, threat perceptions, purchase intentions, policy attitudes, interpretations of quantitative information, and selection exposure to media sources, and 2) greater verbal ability (and not numeric ability) predicted that greater polarization in responses to this global health crisis and two non-COVID-related policies. This relation to verbal rather than numeric ability suggests that to reduce polarization, greater emphasis should be placed on understanding how to convince people to integrate ideologically-inconsistent information into their knowledge networks.


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