How pandemics affect our political brain

Episode 1: How pandemics affect our political brain

Host Rafael Behr talks to cognitive psychologist Dr Leor Zmigrod about how different personalities react differently in times of national crisis.

Show notes

This week our host Rafael Behr is in conversation with Dr Leor Zmigrod about how cognitive science can help us understand how political identities are formed, and how people's ideological affiliations might affect how they respond to a national crisis.

If you want to delve further into the topic

Reader-friendly essays

Zmigrod, L. (2019). The partisan brain: cognitive study suggests people on the left and right are more similar than they think.

Zmigrod, L. (2018). Brexit: how cognitive psychology helps us make sense of the vote.

Relevant academic papers

Zmigrod, L. (2020). The Role of Cognitive Rigidity in Political Ideologies: Theory, Evidence, and Future Directions. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 34, 34-39.

See paper here.

Zmigrod, L., Ebert, T., Götz, F. M., & Rentfrow, J. (2020). The Psychological and Socio-political Consequences of Infectious Diseases. Retrieved from

Tybur, J. M., Inbar, Y., Aarøe, L., Barclay, P., Barlow, F. K., De Barra, M., ... & Consedine, N. S. (2016). Parasite stress and pathogen avoidance relate to distinct dimensions of political ideology across 30 nations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(44), 12408-12413

Murray, D. R., Schaller, M., & Suedfeld, P. (2013). Pathogens and politics: Further evidence that parasite prevalence predicts authoritarianism. PloS One, 8(5).

Kim, H. S., Sherman, D. K., & Updegraff, J. A. (2016). Fear of Ebola: The influence of collectivism on xenophobic threat responses. Psychological Science, 27(7), 935-944.


Rafael Behr

Rafael Behr

Rafael Behr is a political columnist for the Guardian. He is a former Political Editor for the New Statesman, Chief Leader Writer and Online Editor for The Observer, a business news reporter for BBC online and a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, based in the Baltic region and Russia. Rafael is a regular contributor to Prospect Magazine, a guest on BBC and Sky News and a speaker at UK think tanks. His book, Politics, A Survivor’s Guide, is published by Atlantic. He hosts the Politics on the Couch podcast. Before becoming a journalist, Rafael was a political risk analyst covering countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He studied modern languages Merton College, Oxford and took a Master’s degree in Russian Studies at the School for Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He lives in Brighton with his family. He plays the guitar and harmonica, sometimes simultaneously, not always melodiously.

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Dr Leor Zmigrod

Dr Leor Zmigrod

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