Discordant Knowing: A Social Cognitive Structure Underlying Fanaticism

Anton Gollwitzer, Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, Angel Osorio Pizarro, Gabriele Oettingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Examining the epistemic and social–cognitive structures underlying fanaticism, radicalization, and extremism should shed light on how these harmful phenomena develop and can be prevented. In nine studies (N = 3,277), we examined whether discordant knowing—felt knowledge about something that one perceives as opposed bymost others—underlies fanaticism. Acrossmultifaceted approaches, experimentallymanipulating participants’ views to fall under this framework (e.g., “I am certain about X, but most other people think X is unknowable or wrong”) heightened indicators of fanaticism, including aggression, determined ignorance, and wanting to join extreme groups in the service of these views. Additional analyses found that this effect occurs via threat-based mechanisms (Studies 1–7), can be intervened on to prevent fanaticism (Study 2), is conditional on the potency of opposition (Study 3), differs from effects on extremism (Study 4), and extends to mental representations of the self (Study 5). Generalizing these findings to real-world contexts, inducing participants with discordant knowledge about the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election and the morality of abortion heightened fanaticism regarding these topics (Studies 6 and 7). Additionally, antivaccine fanatics and followers of a real-world fanatical religious group exhibited greater discordant knowing than nonfanatical individuals (Studies 8 and 9).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2846-2878
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number11
StatePublished - May 19 2022


  • Discordant knowing
  • Epistemology
  • Extremism
  • Fanaticism
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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