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Scholar Workshop Studies Genocide from Several Angles

May 15, 2024

An online workshop this week aims to deconstruct one of humanity’s most destructive traits: genocide.

UC Merced’s Department of Cognitive and Information Sciences is bringing together an interdisciplinary panel of scholars for “Understanding Genocide: Neural, Psychological and Political Science Perspectives.” The workshop will be shown live on YouTube from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, May 17.

The event is part of the department’s Cognitive Science for the Common Good initiative.

Drawing on research from moral neuroscience, psychology, political science and evolutionary anthropology, panelists will discuss key determinants of the deliberate killing of large numbers of people from a nation or ethnic group simply because of who they are.

The panelists are:

  • UC Merced political science Professor Andrew Shaver, on the limitations and opportunities of globally tracking political violence and persecution. Shaver notes that many major international issues and regional conflicts receive little attention from the major national and international news media.

  • Ghent University moral neuroscience Professor Emilie Caspar, whose presentation is titled “From Qualitative Interviews with Genocide Perpetrators to the Neuroscience of Obedience.” Caspar says recent research that included genocide perpetrators in Rwanda and Cambodia indicated obedience to orders modifies cognitive and affective processes compared to freely decided actions.

  • London School of Economics cross-cultural psychology Professor Jeremy Ginges on the role of hate in promoting genocide. “When witnessing acts of extreme violence, it is tempting to believe the violent group is motivated by hate,” he writes. “I will offer an alternative perspective: that extreme violence may be motivated by the belief that the other group hates us.”

After 30-minute talks from each panelist, UCLA evolutionary anthropology Professor Daniel M.T. Fessler will highlight and integrate perspectives from the talks. The workshop will conclude with a 30-minute panel discussion moderated by UC Merced cognitive science Professor Colin Holbrook .