Research Topic

Neural Perspectives on the Moral Psychology of Violent Conflict

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Extreme forms of violence are not a new phenomenon. However, the increased number of acts of terrorism in the name of strong held values and beliefs has become a worldwide growing concern. Thus, one the most crucial challenges that science faces is to understand how seemingly unremarkable and ordinary ...

Extreme forms of violence are not a new phenomenon. However, the increased number of acts of terrorism in the name of strong held values and beliefs has become a worldwide growing concern. Thus, one the most crucial challenges that science faces is to understand how seemingly unremarkable and ordinary individuals progress towards extreme forms of violence.

There have been many efforts to understand why and how somebody can choose to commit acts of extreme violence and atrocities, sometimes deliberately conducted to maximize visibility and media attention. These studies are based on social, demographic, economic or situational elements. However, even though all these factors must be at work, there is also a general agreement that it is paramount to incorporate evidence from the biological and cognitive sciences, taking advantage of new and powerful tools such as neuroimaging techniques. Since radicalization involves a complex network of elements, the study of the psychological and neural vectors underlying the pathways leading to radicalization is necessary and timely.

There is now an impressive track of studies identifying the neural mechanisms of social and moral cognition that has provided evidence of the need of neurocognitive data to understand the psychological mechanisms that mediate political beliefs. However, there are still many issues that must be addressed. Among other questions, we need a more subtle and rich characterization of the neural mechanisms underlying the cognitive and affective psychological processes that underpin group dynamics, processing of norms and values and narrative comprehension and production. The interaction of individual factors (for instance, “the moral agent” or “identity fusion”) with those of group dynamics (for example, “radicalized networks”, or “social vulnerability”) offers an innovative and incisive way to see how psychological, socio-economic and cultural vectors intermingle to engender radicalism in contemporary societies. In addition, we need studies with a more ecological approach, using much more diversified populations as well as targeting radical individuals.

In sum, this Research topic welcomes manuscripts that address radicalization vectors leading to violence, intolerance, racism and hate crimes, and that meet the challenge of better understanding the causes, the psychological and emotional dynamics and the socialization processes at play in radicalization.


Keywords: Radicalization, Social Neuroscience, Political Psychology, Moral Cognition


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