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Psychology Matters Day :The Psychology of Brexit -Prof. Brian Hughes

May 16, 2019 @ 7:00 pm


May 16, 2019
7:00 pm


Arts Millenium Building, AM250 – Colm O’Heocha Theatre


Brian Hughes


Unlike most cultural upheavals, Brexit is not the result of accidental tragedy or spontaneous economic turmoil. Rather, Brexit was contrived by politicians, was voted for by citizens, and is now being implemented by bureaucrats. Brexit did not ‘just happen’; it exists because people decided to make it exist. It is therefore hugely influenced by a myriad of psychological factors as experienced across many social groups. Brexit is the combined reflection of a multitude of perceptions, preferences, choices, self-images, attitudes, ideas, assumptions, and reasoned (or ill-reasoned) conclusions.

This lecture will examine the Psychology of Brexit. We will look at the psychological factors that influenced the dawn of Brexit, such as optimism biases, causal attribution errors, and illusions of control. We will consider how cognitive dissonance, social stereotypes, and motivated irrationality help otherwise groundless beliefs to thrive in everyday culture, leading to group polarisation, rejectionism, and echo-chamber reasoning. We will see how individual political figures become associated with ideas, and how cultural biases (such as sexism) shape how politicians are portrayed and perceived. And we will consider the psychological impact of Brexit: its effect on social attitudes, future thinking, and collective and individual mental health.

We will conclude by examining how Ireland views Brexit. Are we Irish capable of an objective assessment of the Brexit project? Are we aware of our own biases when seeking to summarise its progress? And does Brexit help focus Irish minds on positive ideas such as collaborative problem-solving — or does it provoke unhealthy social attitudes such as nationalistic self-regard, delusional optimism, and passive coping?

As with its origins and progress, the future impact of Brexit will be shaped by its psychological aspects. This lecture will show how psychology research can shed light on events such as Brexit and position us best to learn from them.


Brian Hughes is a Professor of Psychology at NUI Galway. He is a Fellow and former President of the Psychological Society of Ireland. A prolific researcher in the field of mental stress and health, Brian is a prominent advocate for scientific psychology, evidence-based policy, scientific outreach and the role of psychology in society. His latest book is Psychology in Crisis (London: Palgrave, 2018).

See https://www.psychologicalsociety.ie/event/Psychology-of-Brexit-with-Prof-Brian-Hughes