Thursday, October 29, 2009

An inside look at outrage

What makes a suicide bomber tick?

“Outrage is a distinct emotional state, but almost nothing is known about its physiological effect on functional systems of the brain,” says neuroeconomist Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy.

Berns is leading a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of the brain when sacred values are perceived as being attacked or diminished. The U.S. Air Force and Navy are funding the study, focused on beliefs about religion, government policy, and other values that evoke strong feelings.

“Given the importance of sacred values and the potential for triggering violent conflict, it is important to understand how sacred values become intertwined in decision making,” Berns says. He believes that knowledge of how the brain reacts to irreverence of closely held beliefs could help lead to peaceful solutions during conflict negotiations.

“The Department of Defense is aware that it does no good to bomb a building if it creates more terrorists,” Berns says, “so it is keenly interested in understanding what drives an emotional reaction that is so strong that it has the potential to obliterate rational thinking. The outcome of this study could be a fist step in bringing people together who have opposing value systems.”

Related stories:
"Decisions, Decisions: The biology behind the sometimes irrational, often emotional, choices we make"

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