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Research on social norms could help us better understand extremism

New research investigating how we adhere to certain codes of behavior and tacit appearance can give us an idea of ​​extremist behavior. And with the deadly terrorist attacks this week in Manchester, England, which were aimed at a concert by Ariana Grande, many people are debating what motivates people to take extreme measures such as suicide bombing.

The goal of a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy is to answer the question of how humans evolved to cooperate with groups and internalize social norms even when doing so can be detrimental to their safety and well-being. of Science.

Researchers from the National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and the University of California, Davis say that in today's society suicide bombings and other acts of self-sacrifice can be seen as an example of "oversocialized" "Individuals". Individuals like this are willing to make extreme sacrifices that place the interests of a specific group and their values ​​above all else. For those extreme people, acting in the interest of that group prevails over individual interests.

"You can think of people willing to go to the extreme to defend or enact what they think is right," Sergey Gavrilets, lead author of a study and professor of ecology, evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville told to HuffPost.

The researchers used computer simulated models to analyze the genetic factors that could influence whether or not individuals followed social norms. After running many simulations, based on previous research, the study authors found a high degree of variation between the ability of people to internalize the norms.

Through the model, a relatively small percentage of people emerged as "oversocialized", following the social norms of their self-identified group at any cost.

Beyond terrorists and martyrs, oversocialized individuals could also be individuals who organize group cooperation, such as tribal leaders in small-scale societies.

"Depending on the situations, they can be seen as heroes, saints or the worst villains," said Gavrilets.

A different study in which Gavrilets worked, published in the journal Nature in March, found that negative or harmful group experiences can unite people and prepare them for extreme sacrifice. An example of this could be soldiers preparing for war.

You can think of people willing to go to the extreme to defend or enact what they believe is right.
Sergey Gavrilets, lead author of the study

At the other end of the spectrum are the "sub socialized" individuals, who are "totally They are immune to social norms and only care about their own material benefits, "explained Gavrilets. "Some psychopaths can be an example."

Of course, most people are not overly socialized or socialized, and instead follow the social norms of their society to a degree intermediate.

The study also examined "free users" or individuals who do not participate in collective group actions, even though those actions could benefit the individual. (A teammate who does not make all his effort in a jerk war game would be an example of a free rider)

Interestingly, investigators discovered that punishment among equals, such as embarrass, avoid or spread rumors about free passengers, was the most effective mechanism to get them to cooperate with the group. The less punitive measures of the group's encouraging norms, such as the promotion of participation in the group effort, were less effective in getting people to comply.

As to whether the new findings could apply to anti-terrorist efforts, Gavrilets said his model would need to be rigorously tested before it could be practically applied to politics.

"What we have done is a step in that direction," he said.

This report is presented by HuffPost's health and science platform, The Scope. Give us a liking on Facebook and Twitter and tell us your story:

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