Our study explores the physiological reactivity of women to propaganda generated by far-right, far-left, and jihadist groups to promote radicalization and recruitment into organizations promoting extremist violence.
The theoretical bases of the study derive from the writings of Chomsky and Ellul who explore the power of propaganda to engineer opinions according to specific doctrines while maintaining the illusion of independent thought. Our sample was comprised of 90 women aged 18 through 35 years who described themselves as being conservative, liberal, or Muslim. The first half of the sample participated in a series of three online search sessions designed to capture compelling images related to the radicalization of women. The second half of the sample underwent a single in-lab session which involved reviewing a sample of these materials while being monitored according to eye-gaze, heart rate, galvanic skin response, and emotional facial recognition. We found images of horrific violence prompted dilation of the pupils across all three study groups, suggesting the triggering of sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways to brain regions associated with cognitive and emotional processing. These findings are relevant to understanding the pathways through which violent propaganda stimulates specific areas of the brain possibly enhancing receptivity to further ideological content. In addition, our study provides a perspective for seeking to understand propaganda and the processes of recruitment scientifically using empirical measures of physiological response and reactivity. (Publisher Abstract Provided)