Gianluca Grimalda (Kiel Institute, RA "Social and Behavioral Approaches to Global Problems")
Previous research investigated the effects of violence and warfare on individuals' well-being, mental health and on individual pro-sociality and risk aversion. This is the first study to establish the short and long-term effects of exposure to violence on cognitive control. Cognitive control refers to individuals' capacity to exert self-control and inhibition and to facilitate working memory and fluid intelligence. Cognitive control has been shown to affect positively individual well-being and societal development. We sampled Colombian civilians exposed either to urban violence or to warfare more than a decade earlier. We assessed exposure to violence through either an urban district-level homicide rate or a self-reported measure in rural environments. Before undertaking cognitive tests, a randomly selected subset of our sample was asked to recall emotions of anxiety and fear connected to experiences of violence, while the rest recalled joyful or emotionally neutral experiences. We find that higher exposure to violence was associated with lower cognitive control in the group recalling experiences of violence, while it had no effect in the other group. This demonstrates that exposure to violence, even if a decade earlier, can hamper cognitive control, but only among individuals actively recalling emotional states linked with such experiences. To separate the effect of recalling violent events from the effect of emotions of fear and anxiety, we conducted a laboratory experiment in Germany. We find that both factors have significant negative effects on cognitive control. Such effects were independent and triggered distinct physiological reactions and emotional footprints.
Francesco Bogliacino (Universidad Nacional de Colombia) — Gianluca Grimalda (Kiel Institute, Universitat Jaume I, Spain) — Pietro Ortoleva (Columbia University, USA) — Patrick Ring (Kiel Institute)