Beyond Conflict’s Lead Scientist Emile Bruneau discusses Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting on NPR’s WHYY


Beyond Conflict’s Lead Scientist Emile Bruneau joined Christian Picciolini, a former Neo-Nazi who now works to counter racism and help people disengage from violent extremism, and Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, on NPR’s WHYY. They discuss the violent rhetoric, fear mongering, and hateful attacks which are becoming nearly ubiquitous to American life. The interview took place one week after eleven people were killed and six injured when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The attacker was reportedly shouting anti-Semitic slurs as he started shooting.Dr. Bruneau talked about our research into the cognitive factors that contribute to hate and dangerous group behavior and finds hope for positive change due to the ability of our brains to learn and reframe our minds and biases.Listen to the podcast here and read excerpts of the interview below

“One of the basic elements of psychology at play here is this tendency to think in terms of us and them. We come into the world with a tendency to categorize people into groups – but deciding who is us and who is them is extraordinarily flexible in humans. So this tendency towards ‘tribalism’ is baked into us – but ‘racism’ is a cultural construct. Children aren’t born racist. We have to teach them that ‘race’ is a social category, and that it matters. In experimental research, one-year-olds, three-year-olds don’t have a preference for black [people] over white [people], they don’t understand [skin color] as a characteristic. However, five-year-olds have a 7:1 preference to engage with a White person versus a Black person when given the choice. We, as a society, have to diligently teach our children to specifically who to hate. And once tribalism is established, it opens the door to a host of other psychological processes, which make us see ‘them’ as irrational, untrustworthy, dangerous, and somewhat less than human.” – Emile Bruneau

“This is the flexibility of the human mind: Once [an individual] is defined as part of a group, we imbue that individual with the characteristics of the group. So, you can transfer your hate from one ‘out-group’ member to another; they become psychologically interchangeable. This is how someone can shoot a Muslim cab driver in New York City because of the acts of a Muslim extremist in Paris. The ability to think in terms of groups makes sense for our brains from an efficiency standpoint, but it is this tendency that has been a pernicious enabler of intergroup conflict in humans.”- Emile Bruneau

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