Brain scans reveal how people 'justify' killing

A new study has thrown light on how people can become killers in certain situations, showing how brain activity varies according to whether or not killing is seen as justified.

The study, led by Monash researcher Dr Pascal Molenberghs, School of Psychological Sciences, is published today in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Participants in the study played video games in which they imagined themselves to be shooting innocent civilians (unjustified violence) or enemy soldiers (justified violence). Their was recorded via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they played.

Dr Molenberghs said the results provided important insights into how people in certain situations, such as war, are able to commit against others.

"When participants imagined themselves shooting civilians compared to soldiers, greater activation was found in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), an important area involved in making moral decisions," Dr Molenberghs said.

"The more guilt participants felt about shooting civilians, the greater the response in the lateral OFC. When enemy soldiers, no activation was seen in lateral OFC."

The results show that the neural mechanisms that are typically implicated with harming others become less active when the violence against a particular group is seen as justified.

"The findings show that when a person is responsible for what they see as justified or unjustified violence, they will have different feelings of guilt associated with that – for the first time we can see how this guilt relates to specific ," Dr Molenberghs said.

The researchers hope to further investigate how people become desensitised to and how personality and group membership of both perpetrator and victim influence these processes.

Dr Molenberghs is director of the Monash Social Neuroscience Lab, which studies morality, empathy and group membership in order to get a better understanding of how complex social problems such as racism and in-group bias develop.


Explore further

The science behind rewards and punishment

More information: "The neural correlates of justified and unjustified killing: an fMRI study." Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci first published online March 9, 2015 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsv027
Provided by Monash University
Citation: Brain scans reveal how people 'justify' killing (2015, April 8) retrieved 9 December 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-04-brain-scans-reveal-people.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
29 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments