The Neuroscience of Terrorism: How We Convinced a Group of Radicals to Let Us Scan Their Brains

Radicalisation tends to either be seen as caused by individual characteristics or purely social factors. And of course, neither of these depictions are true. Researchers associated with the international research network Artis International are trying to get to the bottom of the interplay between these factors.

They carried out two brain studies in Barcelona between 2014 and 2017. For the brain scans the researchers used a tool called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which records and identifies which areas of the brain are active during specific tasks. Our first fMRI study explored what could make non-sacred values become more like sacred values.

The first study suggests that social exclusion can contribute to the hardening of values and increased willingness to engage in violence. Our experiments indicate that creating inclusive societies that offer pathways to purpose and a sense of belonging to all its citizens has to be a priority in the fight against political violence. Radicalisation is a social phenomenon that must be socially combated with the help of inclusive governance, friends and families, and media.

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