Social Brain Conference Draws Global Delegates to Barcelona

World experts explore the cognitive neuroscience behind empathy, sacred values, and terrorism.

Published January 05, 2009

In a forthcoming paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, psychiatrist Lord John Alderdice, a Northern Irelandpolitician, states that, “Given the failure of the ‘War on Terror,’ it may…be time to explore how far alternative analyses provide a better key to understanding politically motivated violence. All these matters are essentially issues of human relationships and, as such,are driven much more by emotion than by rational thought.”

The chance to discuss ideas such as Alderdice’s drew more than 130 delegates from over 20 countries to Barcelona in November 2008 to attend the Academy conference “Values and Empathy Across Social Barriers: A Neurocognitive Approach to Fairness.” (The forthcoming Annalsvolume shares the same title).

The two-day First Barcelona Social Brain Conference turned a neuroscientific lens on the human qualities of empathy, sacred values, and cooperation. Speakers from eight countries included Lord Alderdice and Scott Atran, an expert on the roots of suicide terrorism and a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, whose paper, “What Motivates Participation in Violent Political Action,” will also appear in the new Annalsvolume.