Treating Political Reactionism and the War on Science

Treating Political Reactionism and the War on Science

An interview with Dr. Tereza Capelos on why people become politically reactionary, as well as how this orientation also leads to an anti-science and anti-progress stance. Curt and Katie talk with Tereza about the research behind political reactionism, looking at the characteristics of someone who is primed to be politically reactive. We also talk about how therapists can help clients address this harmful dynamic.

It’s time to reimagine therapy and what it means to be a therapist. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy talk about how to approach the role of therapist in the modern age.

Interview with Dr. Tereza Capelos, Director of the Institute for Conflict Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham, and Senior Lecturer in Political Psychology

Dr Tereza Capelos is Senior Lecturer in Political Psychology, Director at the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security (ICCS) at the University of Birmingham (UoB), President Elect of the International Society of Political Psychology, and co-chair of the Political Psychology Standing Group of the European Consortium of Political Research. Tereza’s research examines the psychological determinants of political preferences with particular focus on political reactionism, resentful affect and political radicalization during crises and tensions. She is currently co-editing a special issue titled “Reactionary Politics and Resentful Affect in Populist Times”. She has a PhD from Stony Brook University (USA) and worked at the University of Leiden and the University of Surrey. She serves on the editorial board of five international journals, and co-edits the Palgrave Series in Political Psychology. Tereza founded and directed the Summer Academy training program of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP, 2011-2016) and currently directs two graduate programs (MSc Political Psychology of IR, and MSc Global Cooperation and Security) at UoB.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Intersection between psychology and politics
  • Research on voters who are politically reactive
  • Political Reactionism – how it is created and what it looks like
  • The role of shame, fear, resentment, and anger in voting
  • Anti-preference – to want to move backward, rather than forward
  • Uncertainty, feelings of resentment, perception of injustice
  • Populism as a mechanism to devalue what you cannot have, find who is at fault, how to turn things back to a better time
  • The lure of the idealized or fictional past
  • Reactionism is not related to a specific ideology – can happen on the left or right
  • Feelings and beliefs are more likely to drive decisions than ideology
  • The way that a reactionary orientation can lead to problematic behaviors
  • The problem with being anti-progress, especially related to solving the problems we are facing
  • The difficulty reactionaries with engaging with science
  • Seeking to prove, with confirmation bias – rather than to testing hypotheses
  • The anti-expert sentiment that is based in this problem with science and with uncertainty
  • The insight required to identify when we become reactionary
  • How people label the emotions related to reactionism (and the problem with not knowing how to identify and label our emotions)
  • What therapists can do to help vent emotions related to the resentment that leads to a reactionary orientation
  • Helping people to see neutral and positive uncertainty – rather than only negative uncertainty
  • Bringing people into the scientific method, disappointing them that they will not be “proving” or “confirming,” but rather “testing”

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Resources mentioned:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!

Tereza Capelos, PhD on Google Scholar

University of Birmingham – Department of Political Science

Institute for Conflict Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham

Conservatism, Radicalism, and Scientific Method: An Essay on Social Attitudes by Albert Benedict Wolfe

Relevant Episodes:

Therapy as a Political Act

Donald Trump in Therapy

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Who we are:

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, the CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also Past President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

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Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano

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