DARPA Wants to Master the Neuroscience of Narrative

Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to “detect narrative influence.” These tools will enable “prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.” In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.

Danger Room: Darpa Wants to Master the Science of Propaganda

A couple years ago I would have dismissed this, but data scientists are getting closer to being able to pull this sort of thing off. I’d still say this is years off, but it’s edging closer to the realm of possibility.

Look, for instance, at how semantic analysis is affecting the legal profession and how many high-end, professional jobs are being replaced by robots.

See also:

The Rise of Predictive Policing


  1. “If I were a betting man or woman, I would say that certain types of stories might be addictive and, neurobiologically speaking, not that different from taking a tiny hit of cocaine.”
    ~ William Casebeer of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Virginia

  2. @Wade: That’s an interesting thought, that stories might become a psychological and/or biological need. Probably could be true for many creative, artistic things.

    Reminds me of the recent story about researchers finding that music produces a very real high.

    Art is stimulating.

  3. So how do we counter this?

  4. @dylan it is certainly tough to say, but I just did an interview with David Metcalfe of ModernMythology on my radio show and we hit on that a computer generated narrative might miss the passion of a person connected to the mythos – so not contain all the weirdness that might also come out. Further, I am lately thinking we may notice DARPA narratives as having a uncanny valley effect that allows us to point them out as trickery/subterfuge…


  5. This is as old as organized religion. Before people sat around staring at TV or computer screens, they otherwise consumed “stories” by reading or listening to them. Illiterate people would listen to stories told to them by elders while sitting around a campfire. Some stories were more interesting than others; usually the characters in the story are role models or for the people to aspire to; great and cunning warriors, etc. Spell-binding people with stories keeps them all on the same page and keeps them out of trouble.

    They’re basically dumping a bunch of money to try and fine-tune a process they already understand, but probably forgot they understand.

    The elites have to undergo initiation as well; keeping the masses in line doesn’t come naturally and some generations are better at it than others.

    And in any case, the intelligence agencies have been doing this for the last century, or depending on how broad your definition of “intelligence agency” is, since the dawn of history, when they called themselves shamans, or witch-doctors, or priests, etc.

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