Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Are Myths And Stories A National Security Issue?

This may seem farfetched, but there are some links below on this. Recently I had a post called Being Able To Tell Stories May Help The Economy.

I came across this issue because neuroeconomist Paul Zak said he was going to a workshop on The Neurobiology of Narratives put on by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Those are the folks who brought us the internet. Here is a description of the workshop:

"The impact of narratives on human psychology ranges widely from what events we remember most easily to our choices about important foundational behaviors to include our degree of trust in others. Since the brain is the proximate cause of our actions, narratives have a direct impact on the neurobiological processes of both the senders and receivers of them. Understanding how narratives inform neurobiological processes is critical if we are to ascertain what effect narratives have on the psychology and neurobiology of human choices and behaviors, and can assist in everything ranging from exploring how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is influenced by event repetition to better understanding the thoughts and feelings of others.

To stimulate discussion and research on these issues, the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is hosting a workshop, Narrative Networks (N2): The Neurobiology of Narratives. The workshop is intended as a sequel to one held February 28, 2011, which explored the nature of narratives, their role in security contexts, and methods for analyzing them quantitatively. This workshop will establish fertile ground for connecting our understanding of the neurobiology of narratives with models, simulations and sensors salient to security concerns. Accordingly, it focuses on surveying the neurobiological processes related to narratives, bridging the cognitive neurosciences and the story stimulus.

This workshop has five mutually reinforcing and overlapping goals:

To assay narrative effects on our basic neurochemistry

To understand narrative impact on the neurobiology of memory, learning and identity

To assess narrative influence on the neurobiology of emotions

To examine how narratives influence moral neurobiology

To survey how narratives modulate other brain mechanisms related to social cognition"

There is more at Your Brain on Stories. Here is an excerpt:

"We’ve only begun to understand what happens in the brain when we watch a movie or consume a story in any format. There’s much more to learn, and the implications are huge, if not controversial. Consider what William Casebeer says:

Casebeer notes that a compelling narrative can seal the resolve of a suicide bomber, and suggests that developing “counter-narrative strategies” could help deter such attackers. “It might be that understanding the neurobiology of a story can give us new insights into how we prevent radicalisation and how we prevent people from becoming entrenched in the grip of a narrative that makes it more likely that they would want to intentionally cause harm to others,”

Casebeer is the Air Force colonel who was in charge of the workshop. He has a Ph. D. in philosophy and cognitive science.

There is even more at Hooked on Stories. Here is an excerpt:

"Stories can also manipulate how you feel, as anyone who has watched a horror movie or read a Charles Dickens novel will confirm. But what makes us empathise so strongly with fictional characters? Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University, California, thinks the key is oxytocin, a hormone produced during feel-good encounters such as breastfeeding and sex.

Taking this idea a step further, Read Montague of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg and William Casebeer of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Virginia, have started using fMRI to see what happens in the brain’s reward centres when people listen to a story. These are the areas that normally respond to pleasurable experiences such as sex, food and drugs. They are also associated with addiction. “I would be shocked if narrative didn’t engage the same kind of circuitry,” says Montague. That would certainly help explain why stories can be so compelling. “If I were a betting man or woman, I would say that certain types of stories might be addictive and, neurobiologically speaking, not that different from taking a tiny hit of cocaine,” says Casebeer."

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