Blog: Science

Sacred Values, Decision Making, Changing Minds

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Neuroimaging 'will to fight' for sacred values: an empirical case study with supporters of an AQ associate (2018); Nafees Hamid et al. Research spokesperson: Scott Atran, an adjunct research professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School and Institute for Social Research

Sacred values are preferences, beliefs and practices that communities deem protected from material trade-offs

self-reporting of support for violence appears insensitive to material costs and benefits, and asking people to trade sacred values for material benefits provokes moral outrage.

This feature of intergroup conflict, where people fight on when odds of victory are low, suggests choices made independently of calculated risks and likely outcomes. If so, then a primary focus on undestanding, preventing or deterring such behaviors through utilitarian cost-imposition strategies may be insufficient.

Although behavioral work suggests willingness to fight and die for sacred values is relatively insensitive to cost-benefit reasoning, it may be possible to modulate it using methods that do not entail material incentives or threats.

Research on radicalization distinguishes between deradicalization and disengagement, suggesting that former violent extremists rarely change their beliefs (deradicalize) but more often lose their motivation to defent them (disengage). [32. Deradicalization or Disengagement? A process in need of clarity ...; J. Horgan (Perspect. Terror. 2. 3-8)] Accordingly, we conjectured that it might be possible to induce flexibility in the way people defend their sacred values.

different decision pathways

distinguish radicalized from non-radicalized individuals (an important, but different, research topic).

Willingness to fight and die ratings were substantially higher for sacred values (mean 6.61 out of 7 points) than for non-sacred values (mean 3.8). Willingness to fight and die ratings were also conveyed faster in trials comprising sacred values (4.72 vs 5.49)... Value sacredness was stable after six months.

the sacred value condition... involved less activation in neural areas previously associated with cognitive control and utilitarian reasoning.

For both sacred and non-sacred values there was a significant change in willingness to fight and die ratings in the direction established by peers after participants received conflicting (peers-lower) community feedback, with no statistical interaction with value sacredness. In addition, the sacred values condition evoked higher degrees of both moral outrage (built as an average of anger, contempt, an disgust scores) and joy at peers' willingness to fight and die ratings compared with the non-sacred value condition. Post manipulation moral outrage ratings were substantially higher... when values were sacred...

This observation is consistent with the role of the insula in social aversion, including reactions of disgust and indignation.

Nevertheless, the moderating effect of social influence on willingness to fight and die was independent of moral outrage, suggesting that social influence may affect committment to willingness to fight and die in an implicit way.

Overall, these observations are consistent with the idea that choices involving sacred values are less dependent on cost-benefit calculations than choices involving non-sacred values, and the view of sacred values as moral imperatives guiding goal-oriented actions.

deep-seated political conflicts, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conclict, the Iranian nuclear programme, the Muslim-Hindu conlict...

Figuring out the neural mechanisms that sustain sacred value processing will be key to: (i) validating behavioural modulation effects on value committment by factors that differentially affect sacred and non-sacred values, and (ii) comaring neural substrates of sacred value processing in different samples with diverse cultural backgrounds in order to define cross-cultural commonalities in sacred value processing.

The question remains why there were no brain regions associated with affective processing, such as the amygdala, which activated during the sacred compared with the non-sacred value condition. We believe that the most likely explanation for this owes to our experimental paradigm not being sensitive enough to detect the differential neural activity associated with affective regions.

decisions regarding sacred values may rely on deontic rights and wrongs, whereas decisions over non-sacred values may rely on cost-benefit ponderation.

a heuristic making decisions easy to solve, or cached-offline, whereas decisions regarding non-sacred values would involve some degree of calculation.

community feedback shifted willingness to fight and die ratings in the direction established by peers

Our findings suggest that even when social network interventions are unlikely to reduce commitment to a sacred value, they could reduce adherence to violent options.

FROM THE INTERVIEW

then material incentives (economic carrots) or disincentives (sanctions as sticks) only back re.

We found that the brain used di erent networks when considering di erent causes. There were areas we saw that were inhibited, silent, for sacred causes. These were the areas we call deliberative. These are involved in assessing the pros and cons. With sacred causes when people are deciding how much they should ght and die, they are deciding much faster. It’s not a rational decision, but a rapid duty-bound response regardless of real costs or likely consequences. They are doing what they believe.

Arguments and attempts at persuasion that rely on rational and seemingly reasonable attempts to pull people away also will have limited impact because the part of their brain associated with deliberative reasoning has deactivated. Moreover, such strategies do not reach out to the individual.

We also have to nd out when and why people lock in to sacred values, and how those values might be de-sacralized.

Another implication is that the people best poised to get others to abandon violence without abandoning values are those who hold the same values. This con rmed what I had previously observed in Sulawesi, when Sala preachers were able to dissuade a suicide attack group from killing others and dying themselves.

Attractiveness

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Sorting out attractiveness, veiled in culture and experience.

Do the Low WHRs and BMIs Judged Most Attractive Indicate Higher Fertility? (2018) Lassek, Gaulin. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30296846

In this research, they considered the long-held belief that men's choices in females reflect the reproductive health of these females, and that's why men like hourglass figures best everywhere (called the "fertility hypothesis," and has been popular in the West for the past 30 years). They found they could not support this belief with research. Men largely do prefer a particular ratio of hourglass-ness (its not a matter of the most or least hourglass possible), but it doesn't point directly towards healthy offspring necessarily.

"Waist size is the strongest predictor of attractiveness and largely mediates the relationship of both BMI and WHR (fatness and hourglass-ness) to attractiveness."

They found that men everywhere prefer body types that indicate not the ability of a woman to successfully bear children, but that indicate how young a woman is. The preferred body shape is "likely to be young but postpubertal."

"In well nourished populations, the low BMI and WHRs considered attractive are most likely to occur in women younger that age 20."

"What they do indicate is that a woman is likely to be young (15-19), has never been pregnant, and has maximal stores of brain building fatty acids." (From the interview, not the paper)

This age is not the most likely to be fecund (get pregnant), bear a child successfully, or be able to raise a child. "Men seeking mates with maximum fecundity should prefer women in their late 20s who are likely to have higher BMIs than those in their teens.

Therefore men are aiming at women with "a decreased likelihood of conceiving"

Most cultures prefer the same low BMI, but not all. Cultures where the people experience a lot of "nutritional stress" (hunger) often prefer fatter women. In two big surveys, of 58 and 54 cultures, around 80% of men preferred women who were "plump or fat."

The preferred BMI/WHR in both types of culture indicates age. "Women's BMI and WHR are reliable predictors of age in well-nourished populations, WHR and BMI are lowest in adolescents and then increase monotonically. In subsistence populations in which men prefer higher than average BMIs, higher values also indicate a younger age, since BMI tends to decrease with age."

NOTES:

"The other half of the health-and-fertility hypothesis--that women with smaller waists and lower BMIs have better health--is also likely to be incorrect. However, better health was predicted by younger age."

Women aged postpubertal - 20 may "have high reproductive value. Even though these younger women have reduced current fecundability and a decreased likelihood of infant survival, they have maximal long-term reproductive potential.

In subsistence populations, "BMIs tend to remain low and often fall with age and parity"... "suggesting that reproductively relevant fat resources are depleted by reproduction."

Women with lower WTS (waist to stature) ratios also tended to have higher levels of omega-3 DHA in their stored fat, an important nutrient during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

"Highly attractive women tend to be 2-4 inches taller than average. We are working on trying to understand why" (from interview, not paper)