Exposure to violence does not change the ability to learn who is likely to do harm, but it damages the ability to trust trust in "good people," Yale psychologists and the Oxford University in April 26 reported in Nature Communications.
More than 80% of young people in urban areas experienced violence in their communities last year, and those experiences have a major impact on their health, researchers say.
"We know that exposure to violence is linked to negative life outcomes, from rising health and mental health problems to greater engagement in violent behavior, but there is very little research to understand the underlying cognitive processes that could be affected by this life experience" , said Psychologist from Yale, Ariel Baskin-Somers, co-senior author of the paper.
Baskin-Somers, her colleague from Yale and co-senior author Molly Crockett, as well as graduates, Jennifer Siegel and Susan Estrada, estimated that 119 men were imprisoned in Connecticut prisons, some of whom achieved a high degree of exposure to violence. The participants learned about two foreigners who faced a moral dilemma: whether to inflict painful electric shocks on another person in exchange for money. While the "good" foreigner most often refused to shock another person for money, a "bad" stranger tends to maximize his profits despite the painful consequences. Participants were asked to predict the foreigners' choices, and later they had to decide how much trust should be placed in the good as opposed to the bad foreigner.
The team found that participants with greater exposure to violence effectively learned that a good stranger had done less harmful choices than a bad stranger. However, when deciding whom to trust, they trusted a good stranger less than participants who had less exposure to violence.
In other words, exposure to violence has disrupted the ability to put confidence in the "right" person, "said Sigel, a PhD student at Oxford and the first author of the paper." We also saw that this disorder led to more disciplinary violations within the prison ".
Crockett said the findings show that exposure to violence changes the way people use the information they have learned to make healthy social decisions.
"Social flourishing depends on learning which is likely to be useful versus harmful, and then use that information to decide who will be friendly and avoid," she said. "Our research suggests that exposure to violence disrupts this key aspect of social functioning."
Baskin-Somers added: "The combination of exposure to violence and this specific cognitive impairment can be left to certain people vulnerable to the continuing development of troubled social relationships that limit their chances of psychosocial and economic stability."
The research was partly financed by the Wellcome Fund and the Academy of Medical Sciences.
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