Social Exclusion Promotes Extremism
A novel study investigated the neural interrelationships between sacred values, social exclusion, and extremism with violent manifestations. This research revealed that the social exclusion of a group of people increases their number of ideological values, especially those they’re willing to fight and die for.
This is a rather disturbing result. Particularly at a moment where the social exclusion created by the economic recession has put a high percentage of the population in check. Also, due to the massive human migration that affects many people on the planet. According to this study, being socially marginalized can lead to radical extreme trends in the way a person thinks and acts.
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
Research on social exclusion
The study was conducted with neuroimaging techniques in young people in Catalonia by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute also participated in collaboration with other institutions. The group of individuals in the sample were young boys. Mainly those vulnerable to radicalization, such as Moroccan citizens who became residents and studied in Catalonia.
Published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal, the study, conducted in two phases, studied the neural substrate of values perceived as non-negotiable. Values people don’t waive under any circumstance. Especially those values linked to ideological affiliation, religious identity, or nation/community. These factors have an identity component that facilitates an individual’s perception of belonging to a reference social group.
For the study, magnetic resonance images focused on left inferior frontal gyrus. The result showed an increase in the activity of this brain area. All while the youth responded to their will to die and fight for their values. This area of the brain processes this type of values and also rules.
The dangers of social exclusion
The results obtained by Clara Pretus, first author of the article, lead people to think that social exclusion can produce a sacralization of group values. In other words, the values defended in groups could acquire the rank of sacred. At least as much as personal values, maybe even more. This seems to occur both in neural activity and in the will the study participants express.
If you think about the zones activated by the defense of sacred values, this study shows you these types of values process through reasoning based on duty. “The right thing to do”, that is. Little relevance is given, in this case, to the cost-benefit assessment. That which is applied to the values not considered sacred. Those that are usually more flexible and with more opportunities for negotiation.
Polarizing the results
This research has been conducted with a group of people who are vulnerable to radicalization due to their condition of permanent social exclusion. But perhaps it’s worth stopping to reflect on why so many radical attitudes have manifested in Western society in recent years.
Social exclusion can occur in many ways. You find it individually, but also support it to a greater or lesser degree in relation to your feeling of belonging. The truth is that people have many feelings of belonging. More than they can identify in a first analysis, in fact.
Similarly, recent research shows that social exclusion, of any kind, can promote the radicalization of ideas and attitudes. This could indicate why there so many extreme opinions on topics such as politics or religion.
Perhaps it’s time to review the personal and group values each person carries around. Because in many cases, they’re only values inherited from culture and the environment. Perhaps it’s time to begin to distinguish which are sacred values and which aren’t.
Many voices and opinions are in defense of political and religious ideologies people process as sacred values. Do we, as a society, really want that? Is this really a society where people exclude each other by values of questionable depth? This study is nothing more than a small replica in a lab, but it’s definitely revealing.