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Radicalisation work earns University of Cambridge researcher Women of the Future award



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Dr Leor Zmigrod, a research fellow at Churchill College and the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, has won a 2020 Women of the Future award.

Anti-terror barrier on King’s Parade brings extremism right into the immediacy of everyday life
Anti-terror barrier on King’s Parade brings extremism right into the immediacy of everyday life

It reflects her work exploring cognitive and neurobiological traits that might act as vulnerability factors for radicalisation and ideologically-motivated behaviour.

Her research combines methods from experimental psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience to investigate the psychology of ideological thinking, voting behaviour and group identity formation.

It is the latest recognition for the Gates Scholar, who completed her BA and PhD at Cambridge, who last year was on the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ listing in Science.

“The Women of the Future programme reached out to me several months ago,” says Dr Zmigrod, “and shortlisted five young scientists including in physics, biology, technology and psychology.”

Dr Zmigrod learned she had won during a virtual ceremony and later received the award you an see in the photograph.

Women of the Future award winner Dr Leor Zmigrod is a fellow at Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell
Women of the Future award winner Dr Leor Zmigrod is a fellow at Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Her work is topical in an age when extremism comes from a variety of actors, and she is one of 14 academics on the Commission for Countering Extremism.

“It’s a branch of the Home Office looking into radicalisation,” she explains. “My research explores about how people get into ideologies – and out of them. Not everyone is equally susceptible, and so we can study how individuals’ unconscious traits and cognitive style can sculpt the ideologies that appeal to them.

“These traits have a biological basis, they are coded by the genes just like other traits, but they are malleable so you can have an environmental/nature interaction, which could be parental, or educational, or environmental. So a mixture of these factors shapes why some people become indoctrinated while some do not.

“I’m currently developing my research programme in political psychology and neuroscience, seeking to use innovative computational and neurocognitive methods to explore why some individuals are susceptible to radicalisation, while others are more resilient. I’m really passionate about good scientific research in this field: injecting evidence into policy and public debate adds value and is fascinating. Identifying the diverse psychological pathways into extremism using modern scientific tools is not only crucial for better policy – it can help citizens understand each other across ideological divides.”

The Women of the Future Awards were founded by author, motivational speaker and food expert Nusrat Mehboob Lilani – commonly known as Pinky – in 2006.



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