Reforming Sectarian Beliefs in Iraq: Winning the Peace

Michael Oler, Anthony Johnson, Anna McCulloh, Munqith Dagher, Anita Day, Ian McCulloh


Sectarian violence continues in Iraq affecting regional and world security. Neuroscience techniques are used to assess the mentalizing process and counter-arguing in response to videos designed to prevent extremist radicalization. Measurement of neural activity in brain Regions of Interest (ROI) assists identification of messages which can promote favorable behavior. Activation of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPFC) is associated with message adoption and behavior change. Public Service Announcements (PSAs) have not been effective in reducing violence in Iraq. This study demonstrates that the four PSAs investigated in this study do not activate the MPFC. The RLPFC is a brain ROI associated with counter-arguing and message resistance. This study demonstrates that reduction in activity in the Right Lateral Prefrontal Cortex (RLPFC) is associated with decreased sectarianism. Engagement was measured and is associated with activity in the frontal pole regions.

We introduce Functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure the neural activity of highly sectarian Iraqis in response to these anti-sectarian messages. Neural activity was measured while viewing three PSAs and a fourth unpublished video. All four videos are intended to reduce sectarianism. A novel sectarianism scale is introduced to measure sectarian beliefs before and after the messages. This sectarian scale has high internal consistency as measured by Cronbach’s alpha. Measured activation of brain ROIs are correlated with changes in the sectarian scale.

Twelve Sunni and twelve Shi’a Iraqis participated in the study. Subjects were shown the four videos in randomized order, while equipped with a fNIRS neural imaging device. All four videos produced significant engagement. None of the videos reduced sectarianism nor caused brain activation of adoption. This is consistent with the widely held Iraqi public perception that the PSAs are ineffective. Only one video, which was un-published, caused reduced sectarian beliefs. This un-published fourth video was associated with decreased counter-arguing. Counter-arguing is associated with message resistance.

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Michael Oler, Anthony Johnson, Anna McCulloh, Munqith Dagher, Anita Day, Ian McCulloh

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright © SCHOLINK INC.  ISSN 2576-5388 (Print)  ISSN 2576-5396 (Online)