The Science of Fate: Why Your Future is More Predictable Than You Think by Hannah Critchlow is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20).
You devote a chapter to the formation of belief – how our genes, traits and experiences shape our views. Does this mean genes play a role in our political views, say whether we’re a leaver or a remainer?
There have definitely been studies that have looked at different brain profiles associated with ideology. People who are very conservative seem to have a much larger volume and a much more sensitive amygdala – the area of the brain that is involved in perceptions of fear. People who are more liberal seem to have a greater weighting on the region of the brain that is engaged in future planning and more collaborative partnerships. They don’t seem sensitive to immediate threats; instead, they are looking to the future. What we see in propaganda through the centuries is that if you heighten someone’s fear response using environmental manipulation, you are more likely to make them vote in a rightwing way.
It’s very difficult. Once you have built up a perception of the world, you will ignore any information to the contrary. Your brain is already taking up about 20% of your energy, so changing the way that you think is going to be quite cognitively costly. And it might be quite socially costly too.