Reality – Your personal guidebook

According to Krueger, all beliefs are acquired in a similar way. “Beliefs are on a spectrum but they all have the same quality. A belief is a belief.”

Our agent-seeking and pattern-seeking brain usually serve us well, but it also makes us susceptible to a wide range of weird and irrational beliefs, from the paranormal and supernatural to conspiracy theories, superstitions, extremism and magical thinking. And our evolved psychology underpins other beliefs too, including dualism – viewing the mind and body as separate entities – and a natural tendency to believe that the group we belong to is superior to others.

The second source of rightness is more personal. When it comes to something like political belief, the assumption has been that we reason our way to a particular stance. But, over the past decade or so, it has become clear that political belief is rooted in our basic biology. Conservatives, for example, generally react more fearfully than liberals to threatening images, scoring higher on measures of arousal such as skin conductance and eye-blink rate. This suggests they perceive the world as a more dangerous place and perhaps goes some way to explaining their stance on issues like law and order and national security.

Another biological reflex that has been implicated in political belief is disgust. As a general rule, conservatives are more easily disgusted by stimuli like fart smells and rubbish. And disgust tends to make people of all political persuasions more averse to morally suspect behaviour, though the response is stronger in conservatives. This has been proposed as an explanation for differences of opinion over important issues such as gay marriage and illegal immigration. Conservatives often feel strong revulsion at these violations of the status quo and so judge them to be morally unacceptable. Liberals are less easily disgusted and less likely to judge them so harshly.

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