Unintended Consequences of Security Motivation in the Age of the Internet: Impacts on Governance and Democracy

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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There has been a striking recent shift in how political discourse seems to work, with, for example, partial information of sometimes dubious accuracy or relevance propagating very rapidly and widely on electronic networks and overriding clearer, more complete, more accurate information. In explanation of such phenomena, we address ways in which highly interconnected electronic networks may create vulnerabilities that involve tapping into special, relatively hard-wired motivational systems in the brain, particularly the security motivation system. We also discuss a mode of communication, sometimes described as “mass hypnosis,” in relation to a motivational system that manages the dominance hierarchy. Rather than just affecting people’s higher cognitions, political messages also tap into these motivation systems, generating surprising avenues for misuse.



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  • Performance of these acts produces Motor and Visceral Output, which, in turn, leads to a conceptual model of the security motivation system. Solid arrows indicate excitatory and dashed arrows inhibitory stimulation, respectively. Yedasentience output does not act on environmental input but rather on the Appraisal of Potential Danger and the Security Motivation processors to inhibit their activity. Exposure through mo-tor output to “safety” stimuli provides inhibitory stimulation to Appraisal of Potential Danger. Modified from Szechtman and Woody (2004). This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/15685373.
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  • A neural circuit model of the security motivation system. Each of the 4 distinct subcircuits (loops) subserves one of the functional components in Figure 1 and identified by corresponding colours. The dashed line indicates possible sites of yedasentience feedback inhibition. Abbreviations: am, amygdala; bnst, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; GPe = external segment of the globus pallidus; GPi, internal segment of the globus pallidus; hpc, hippocampus; mc, motor cortex; md Thalamus, mediodorsal thalamic nucleus; mopfc, medial prefrontal cortex and orbital prefrontal cortex; pmc, premotor cortex; sma, supplementary motor area; SNpc, substantia nigra pars compacta; SNr, substantia nigra pars reticulata; stn, subthalamic nucleus; va, ventro-anterior thalamic nucleus; vl, ventrolateral thalamic nucleus; vta, ventral tegmental area. Reprinted by permission from Szechtman and Woody (2004). This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/15685373.
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  • The physiological network associated with security motivation. The Appraisal of Poten-tial Danger Loop of Figure 2 connects with the hpa Axis, which has both input from and output to the Appraisal Loop. Within the Appraisal Loop there are receptors for crh and gc, denoted by the respective circles in white rectangles, by which hpa can modulate it; chr also acts as a neurotransmitter within the Appraisal Loop. Finally, the Appraisal Loop affects Autonomic Regulation, by which the myelinated vagus modulates the bronchi and heart. Abbreviations: am, amygdala; bnst, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; crh, corticotropin-releasing hormone; gc, glucocorticoids; hpc, hippocampus; lc, locus coeruleus; mopfc, medial prefrontal cortex and orbital prefrontal cortex; pvn, paraventricular nucleus. Reprinted by permission from Woody and Szechtman (2011). This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via http://booksandjournals.bril-lonline.com/content/journals/15685373.
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