Influential Psychologist Claims Irrational Fear is Behind Brexit Vote
By Daily Bell Staff - June 07, 2016

‘Irritation and anger’ may lead to Brexit, says influential psychologist  … British voters are succumbing to impulsive gut feelings and irrational reflexes in the Brexit campaign with little regard for the enormous consequences down the road, the world’s most influential psychologist has warned.  Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel laureate and father of behavioural economics, said the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society. – UK Telegraph

Daniel Kahneman sees the Brexit debate as one motivated by irrational fear.

He explains that emotion is ruling people’s perspective and that arguments regarding leaving the EU are based on “irritation and anger.” He was interviewed by the Telegraph at the Amundi world investment forum in Paris.

Professor Kahneman, a Jewish child who survived the Nazi occupation of France, said the British people are being swept along by emotion. He added that they would “lash out later at scapegoats if EU withdrawal proves to be a disastrous strategic error.”

His life’s work is anchored in studies showing that people are irrational. They are prone to cognitive biases and “systematic errors in thinking”, made worse by  chronic over-confidence in their own judgment – and the less intelligent they are, the more militantly certain they tend to be.

People do not always act in their own economic self-interest. Nor do they strive to maximize “utility’ and minimize risk, contrary to the assumptions of efficient market theory and the core premises of the economics profession.

Kahneman’s perspective undermines assumptions about how people operate and whether they can properly analyze the world around them.

According to the article, he and his colleague Amos Tversky have had a big impact on psychology. By challenging “the assumption of rationality in economics,” Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in 2002.

He wrote a book, Thinking, Fast and Slow that was a global best-seller. Comparisons were made between his book and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations or General Theory by John Maynard Keynes.

In the article, Kahneman suggests that a “false narrative” has already been built around the Great Recession. “The crash was not as predictable as it now appears. We have learned the wrong lesson.”

Of course this statement runs counter to analyses such as those presented by users of Austrian, free-market economics who did in fact predict the downturn.

Austrian-style investors like Peter Schiff were quite aware of what was coming and often said so.

In fact, we can argue that psychology is not a science at all but a series of observations that may appear to be clever or appropriate but cannot be proven.

Additionally, one can argue that Kahneman’s viewpoints have become popular because they indicate that people need leadership and guidance.

His perspective, in other words, welcomes strong leadership at the top. He has provided justification for a powerfully led nation-state.

Kahneman and others like him want to make the argument that movements like Brexit are in some sense irrational. But one can also argue, in turn, that his professional perspective is condescending, and even misguided.

Conclusion: We would also suggest that this sort of condescension aggravates misunderstandings between leaders and the mass of the populace who are seen as being led. The European Union is a good example of that. And Brexit is a predictable outcome.

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  • Bruce C.

    It’s always interesting to learn about someone who is so famous I’ve never even heard of them. In any case, this piece is one of those that can be interpreted in diametrically opposite ways.

    For example, Khan’ writes, “the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society.” That’s true, but very probably in just the opposite way that he thinks: The whole EU agenda itself is a destructive psychological process and will most definitely be a downward spiral for British society, as the last ten years have shown. The whole reason for the BREXIT referendum is because a lot of people have looked into the abyss and don’t want to go there.

    Furthermore, if his own life’s work concludes that “people are irrational” then doesn’t that include himself too? I mean, does he think that the EU authorities and their agenda are NOT “prone to cognitive biases” and a “chronic over-confidence in their own judgement”? I wonder if he’s heard of Mario Draghi and Angela Merkel?

    If there is to be any ‘lashing out at scapegoats’ it will be those still stuck in the eurozone against the Brits who have – hopefully – managed to escape.

    • alaska3636

      There is an historical tug-of-war being played out between average people and technocrats who believe it is their duty and/or right to rule them. The technocrats are wise and benevolent and are never surprised by the unintended consequences of their actions because their foresight is so impeccable.

      The new Renaissance will favor intuition and culture over omniscient technocracy.

  • Blank Reg

    If Brexit happens, can Texit be next??

    • mary

      Not a chance in hell. They’d nuke us all rather than let one hamlet go.

  • Me_Again

    Newsflash for the good professor…
    “..downward spiral for British society.”
    Been on a steep downgrade since Blair took office in 97′. Ever since, the gradient has varied but it is still a gradient.
    We are ruled by liberal elites who cannot see the consequences of their diktats to the ordinary people.
    Second newsflash for the good professor, I don’t give a damn why people will vote out as long as they vote out.
    Also, I am deeply suspicious that the Prof has not looked at the irrationality of those clinging to the EU like a babe to a teat. That truly is like turkeys voting for Christmas, and that it be brought forward a month or two.

  • alaska3636

    While there is truth that less intelligent persons tend towards greater conviction in their beliefs, there is an unstated (avoided) truth in Kahneman’s work that the smarter you are the less likely you are to understand that uncertainty is baked into the cake of the human experience.

    I am listening to Thinking Fast and Slow on my commute to work and it is fascinating the number of ways in which humans engage in fallacious logic and myopic viewpoints; however, he rarely if ever confronts the fact that the bell curve of human intelligence favors the average person and, thus, history favors the thinking mechanisms passed down by the average person’s genetics and culture.

    His is a less pretentious form of technocratic elitism: he suggests that average people are incapable of thinking in the correct ways to manage their lives. This is demonstrably false. As long as people are given freedom to interact with each other, novel new ways of combining capital tend to be formed and institutions for their survival tend to come into existence. My theory is that people need to think less and non-aggress more.

    I have written some posts about Enlightenment epistemology and humanism and I hope to elaborate more on the subject here:
    and here:

    • “His is a less pretentious form of technocratic elitism.”

      Yes, thanks.

    • Bruce C.

      He might also consider the wisdom of the EU project itself and all those souls who struggled with that. For that matter, why stop there?

  • rahrog

    Another elitist telling the common folk they just don’t understand how well they’re being screwed.

  • william beeby

    So people who think that the EU is an over bloated bureaucratic rich man`s club are just ignorant and irrational ? This guy doesn`t have a vote I assume so should keep his elitist psycho-babble to himself in my opinion. These scare tactics are getting to be a joke and people will make up their own minds without being cajoled left right and centre.

  • william beeby

    Forgot to say thanks for the article DB, and I agree with your comments.

  • Doski

    Psycho-babble aside, a Sovereign Man OR Country can endeavor to correct any mistake he or it makes but a Slave or Slave State ALWAYS remains ‘At-The-Mercy-OR-Tyranny’ of his / its Master(s). One tends to Learn and pursues progress from Self-Inflicted-Pain but only ‘Learns-to-Hate’ and pursues conflict from pain induced by others.

    ‘Stand’ or ‘Kneel’ are the Brits choices and both will require multi-generational (long term) commitments. The question is which will they ultimately Bestow upon their future offspring because both choices are subject to Varying levels of Pain but to the enlightened only the former offers the added possibility of Gain.

  • Pilgrim

    Solomon once wrote a proverb that describes the fool as being “wiser in his own conceit than ten men who can render a reason.”

    I am compelled by the biblical directive to “call no man a fool”, so I will leave it to others as to whether this proverb applies to Daniel Kahneman.

  • Suggy

    This study supports his assertions…

    “Irrational thinking is driving the EU Referendum result.

    New research from ‘The Online Privacy Foundation’ shows that a voter’s ability to think rationally about the evidence for a referendum topic distinctly depends on whether or not that evidence supports their existing views.”