We oppose them: damage to the “external group” is due to increased activity in the reward scheme of the brain

Summary: Aggression against members of the “external group” is associated with increased activity in the reward-related areas of the brain. Activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex affected a person’s level of aggression against another person.

A source: Virginia Commonwealth University

People form groups, and they often clash with rival groups. But why do people show a tendency to harm people in opposing groups?

A new study led by researchers at the University of Virginia Commonwealth used brain functional description technology to uncover a potential response: It increases brain activity in the reward area.

“It’s important for us to understand why people divide each other into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and then are deeply prepared to harm ‘them’ at a time when political divisions and global conflicts are intensifying,” said David. author David. Chester, Candidate of Philological Sciences, Associate Professor of Psychology, College of Humanities and Sciences.

“Our findings show that harming group members is a relatively rewarding experience and improve this understanding.”

Researchers found that 35 male college students performed a competitive, aggressive task against a student from their own university or a rival university. In fact, the participants unknowingly played against a computer program and no real people were harmed.

They found that participants who were more aggressive against members of the inner group (students from their own university) than members of the outer group (students from their own university) were more active in key areas of the brain reward scheme — the accumbens nucleus and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. decided how aggressive it would be.

Before and after being expelled from the group, aggression against group members was positively associated with activity in the ventral striatum in deciding how aggressive their group rival should be.

Aggression towards members of the external group is also associated with more exclusive activity in the rostral and dorsal middle prefrontal cortex during the provocation of their group opponent. These modified models of brain activity suggest that frontostriatic mechanisms may play a significant role in motivating aggression toward group members.

The results show that harming group members is associated with the experience of particularly useful and positive emotions. Such psychological reinforcement mechanisms help explain why people seem to be more prone to intergroup conflict, Chester said.

“This finding helps to balance the narrative about the psychological processes underlying aggression towards members of a group that typically emphasize negative emotional states such as anger and fear,” Chester said.

“This study has shown that positive emotions can play a role in motivating intergroup aggression, suggesting many new directions for future research on this topic and potential interventions aimed at reducing group conflict.”

The findings increase the likelihood that treatment that one day interrupts the reward for intergroup aggression will help reduce the incidence of costly and persistent human violence against other people, Chester said.

Chester is the director of the Laboratory of Social Psychology and Neurobiology at VCU, where he tries to understand why people are trying to harm each other. In the past, the laboratory has focused on conflict between two people and, in carefully monitored experiments, has tried to remove any elements of group membership, identity, or partisanship.

However, this new study is the first step in the laboratory’s study of the neural correlation of intergroup aggression.

“These new findings are consistent with our previous study, which repeatedly reflected the brain’s reward scheme (i.e., the accumbens nucleus and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex) in promoting aggressive behavior,” he said.

“We have advanced this line of research by showing that such reward action during aggression has a greater impact on the intergroup context than the non-group context.”

Before and after being expelled from the group, aggression against group members was positively associated with activity in the ventral striatum in deciding how aggressive their group rival should be. Image in public domain

Although the researchers were not surprised by the new findings, they were surprised to find similar results when experimenting with a weak group.

“Many groups have a long history of deep hatred for each other, and the use of our rival universities has not come close to reflecting what really problematic intergroup conflicts are happening around the world,” Chester said.

“We have chosen such a soft inter-group competition for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that deep-rooted inter-group conflict can be extremely difficult for our participants. However, despite the fact that we used a relatively small group competition, it was surprising to see such clear results.

“I think our influence in the context of the inter-group conflict between the two groups, who hate each other so much, will be even stronger.”

The area of ​​the brain involved in the study is involved not only in respect, but also in other psychological processes such as learning, motivation and personality.

Although Chester said that brain activity may not reflect a subjective experience of pleasure, decades of brain research show that key functions in this area are reliably linked to reward to a point where researchers feel comfortable drawing conclusions, Chester said.

See also

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More research is needed to make it clear that the award is “the main culprit of intergroup conflict,” he said.

This is news from a social neuroscience study

Author: Press service
A source: Virginia Commonwealth University
The connection: Press Service – Virginia Commonwealth University
Photo: Image in public domain

Original study: Open access.
Emily Lasco Social neurology


Abstract

Neural mechanisms of intergroup elimination and revenge aggression

Aggression is frequent and intense between rival groups. Despite the large number of studies on the psychological and socio-environmental determinants of intergroup aggression, the neurology of this phenomenon remains incomplete.

To study the neural correlation of aggression (against the group), we recruited 35 healthy young male participants who were current or former students at the same university.

Then, while performing a functional MRI task, aggression against the two groups of participants and their competitors led them to varying degrees of provocation. Participants could respond equally to an outsider’s opponent, while opponents could provoke them to varying degrees, and participants could respond.

Participants were then socially joined, then expelled by a member of both groups, and then performed the same aggression task against the same two opponents. Before and after being expelled from the group, aggression against group members was positively related to their activity in the ventral striatum in deciding how aggressive they should be to their opponent in the external group.

Aggression against members of the external group is also associated with post-exclusive posterior activity in the rostral and dorsal middle prefrontal cortex during group group provocation.

These modified models of brain activity suggest that frontostriatic mechanisms may play a significant role in motivating aggression toward group members.

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