Scott Atran: Explaining the Cognitive Triggers for Extremist Violence

Explaining the Cognitive Triggers for Extremist Violence Through Brain Scanning

In the below paper for Royal Society Open Science, scientists led by Prof. Scott Atran (CCW and Artis International) reveal ground-breaking insights into the psychology of radicalisation and terrorist violence; gained by scanning the brains of men who support a terror organisation associated with Al Qaeda.  

Prior research has demonstrated the pivotal influence of ‘sacred values’ (a potent subset of moral values) in underpinning radical ideologies and the escalation to violent extremism.  These values are resistant to conventional forms of moderation, compromise or negotiation and, as such, present a huge challenge to counter-radicalisation efforts based on material incentives and/or sanctions.   

Artis has found that this phenomenon is directly represented in the brain, with areas normally associated with rational, utilitarian reasoning showing markedly less activity when the question of violent action in defence of these sacred values is raised.  

It has also been determined that more moderate views, when expressed by peers, may help ‘dial down’ the propensity toward violent action.  This again directly evidenced by observed changes in brain functioning.