Brexit has triggered fight, flight or freeze response in majority of population, academic claims

An academic says that Brexit has psychologically affected everyone, whatever our views on the subject.

Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 3:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 8:14 pm
Dr Vanessa Parson says opinions on Brexit are becoming more entrenched and people on both sides of the debate even angrier.

Dr Vanessa Parson, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sunderland, says the response to the divisive saga is either “fight, flight or freeze”.

Fight, either for or against Brexit. Flight, because some don’t like to think about it. Freeze, because some find the issue daunting, wearying and don’t think they can do anything about it; so just accept whatever happens.

This is because nobody likes what is happening. But the overall situation is far from apathetic, with insults traded instead of reasoned debate. Dr Parson explains the anger.

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She said: “Protests and petitions are clear evidence that many people are fighting back.

“As we get closer to the deadline, people are getting angrier that their views are not being heard and the emotionally charged nature of the situation is leading to people rejecting authority.

“Brexit is an emotionally charged issue, but this means people on all sides are more prone to dig their heels in and resent those disagreeing with them.

“But it is also solidifying relationships between individuals, where beliefs match.

“We are a social species and navigate the world more confidently when we think the same as those around us.”

Dr Parson also suggests that the more our individual opinion is challenged, the more entrenched we become.

She said: “When an issue is highly emotive, we can become almost more committed to it, because of various psychological mechanisms.

“To change our minds at this point, on either side, requires a huge re-evaluation of what we believe in, and this can lead to something called cognitive dissonance.”

In other words, people won’t admit to being wrong, even to themselves. Cognitive dissonance means having inconsistent thoughts or beliefs, such as enjoying smoking and drinking while knowing that they’re bad for us.

This doesn’t make anyone more flexible on Brexit.

The lecturer also feels that Brexit has led to both parties having a “monological belief system” which allows no argument contrary to our own to change our view.

A monological belief system is one that is essentially circular around a central idea, where all arguments come back to a central statement with no room for contradiction.

According to Dr Parson, people will say something like “just get it done” or “well we might as well accept it”, neither of which provides neither any answers, nor room for contradiction.

Dr Parson said: “As a result Brexit has become almost like a self-sustaining view for a large proportion of people: what’s known as a monological belief system, which seems to be made up of mutually supportive beliefs with no room for alternative arguments.”

It seems that things will become angrier before they get calmer.