Fanatics have reduced capacity for rational thoughts

Fanatics have reduced capacity for rational thoughts

Brain scans on fanatical Islamists show they have a reduced capacity for rational thought, new research suggests.

Members of a radical Islamist group were asked how willing they were to ‘fight and die’ for their ideas.  Their brains were then scanned during the process, reported UK based Daily Mail Online.

The results showed that when questioned, the part of the brain that engages in evaluating costs and consequences showed reduced activity.

The scientists say this shows that when it comes to values held ‘sacred’ to the radicals, they are immune to arguments involving costs and benefits.

The research highlights the difficulties of trying to ‘deradicalise’ someone.

This is because the region of the brain that is engaged is resistant to argument.

But what did alter the views of the radical group was peer pressure.

If the participants were told that the overall opinion of other members of the community – Pakistani Muslims living in Barcelona – was less supportive of their position they would alter their views, being less likely to want to ‘fight and die.’

The researchers say that their findings fit in with ideas that radicals do not often abandon their core ‘sacred values’.

But they can become less willing to fight and die to uphold them.

To carry out the research, 146 members of a ‘radical Islamist group’ Lashkar et Taibar were recruited for the experiment in Barcelona.

The group were selected in a survey by expressing willingness to use violence against civilians, to join a terror group or to engage in violent protest.

Other religious causes they were asked to consider where over issues such as Western military forces beng expelled from Muslim lands, and for strict veiling of women in public.

Scott Atran of the University of Michigan and colleagues writing in a Royal Society journal said: ‘We found that sacred value choices involved less activation of brain regions previously associated with cognitive control and cost–benefit calculations.

‘In addition, we also found that willingness to fight and die ratings were influenced by peers’ opinions.’

They add that their research shows ‘it might be possible to induce flexibility in the way people defend their sacred values’ and that the findings could be used to better understand the motivations of violent conflict.

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