The Psychology of Political Polarization

From 2018 to 2020 I did brain research into political polarization in the United States. I was based as a postdoctoral researcher at the Social & Affective Neuroscience Lab at Brown University. More than 40 strongly politically engaged Americans visited our lab for a brain scanning session of 1.5 hours and a number of other tests.

We discovered that the brains of conservative and liberal Americans responded differently to political videos. The degree of this 'polarized brain response' depended on other human traits, including tolerance to uncertainty. In a nutshell: people with lower uncertainty tolerance have a stronger need for clear-cut explanations about the world—leading them to have a more polarized view of political issues. This even influences how our brains process political information on the fly.


Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant interviewed me about this work in February of 2021 (you can find a pdf here). For an international audience I wrote a blog about it at Psychology Today. I also give talks and interviews about this topic, for instance at debate center De Balie in Amsterdam (see video below - in Dutch). For more information and bookings, see Outreach or get in touch.