Interesting speculations on the neurobiology of people’s reactions to news such as the death of bin Laden. Another interesting question this raises is that of group identification. In particular, is the sense of vindication stronger where one identifies with the offended party? More specifically, I’m wondering if this neurobiological reaction could account for people who view the 11 September attacks as attacks on their “way of life” feeling more strongly vindicated than those who view the attacks in the context of a larger pattern of injustice.
Another article that doesn’t entirely live up to it’s grabby headline from the WSJ. The findings are legit, but it only references one older study from ‘06, when there are newer, fresher studies to support the point - which is that research shows that we are neurally wired (especially young men) to seek a form of justice against rule breakers and it strikes at our reward zone when it does happen, providing a sense of relief and fairness - and this is also the case when the offence committed wasn’t directed at us.
Apparently, we are engineered to get pleasure from punishing those who deserve to be punished. As the scientists note:
The findings of enhanced activation in ventral striatum to a signal indicating that a defector is receiving pain are in agreement with the hypothesis that humans derive satisfaction simply from seeing justice administered, even if the instrument of punishment is out of their control.
Our level of empathic concern may be intrinsically related to our sense of fairness, but it seems the reward system is more powerful, as:
…empathic responses are shaped by valuation of other people’s social behaviour, such that they empathize with fair opponents while favouring the physical punishment of unfair opponents, a finding that echoes recent evidence for altruistic punishment. Via.
Most the studies agree finding the pattern of neural preferences suggest that “people like cooperating with fair opponents but also like punishing unfair opponents”. Via. So, the question is: what does it mean when you are having these internal negotiations with yourself not to feel relief over a rule breaker getting punished?
Update: Time does a similar piece citing one of the articles I offered up here.