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

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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.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo Waterloo, on, Canada N2L 3G1 ; 2: Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University Hamilton, on, Canada L8S 4K1


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