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Security Science

DARPA Wants To Know How Stories Influence People 87

coondoggie writes "DARPA in a nutshell wants to know how stories or narratives influence human behavior. To this end, they are hosting a workshop called 'Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies (STORyNET): Analysis and Decomposition of Narratives in Security Contexts,' on Feb. 28th to discuss the topic. 'Stories exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity. It comes as no surprise that these influences make stories highly relevant to vexing security challenges such as radicalization, violent social mobilization, insurgency and terrorism, and conflict prevention and resolution. Therefore, understanding the role stories play in a security context is a matter of great import and some urgency," DARPA stated.'"
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DARPA Wants To Know How Stories Influence People

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  • Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:24AM (#35162244) Homepage
    Stories are often a delivery method for propaganda (even the good-safe-happy Aesop kind), and almost any bit of propaganda can be framed into a narrative story. The effects and influence of propaganda campaigns have been studied well previously. Start there.
    • Re:Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:37AM (#35162434) Homepage

      It's not just propaganda. Most people think narratively, not logically. Instead of based on whether the facts and evidence are consistent and logically support a hypothesis, most people try to slot the world into stories they've heard, or believe in. Stories shape the way people think in powerful ways.

      Consider the /. post a couple down from this one Secret Plan To Kill Wikileaks With FUD Leaked []. You've got people jumping on the notion that Wikileaks' recent problems are the result of an orchestrated plan to destroy it. Of course, logically, the facts don't fit, the timeline is all wrong. But people will believe it anyway, since it fits a narrative structure they've learned from books and movies and other sources of fiction.

      • This doesn't just apply to stories, but to experiences as well. Memory is faulty and we fill in things we miss with our imagination. I think stories are the least of the major applications for this desceptive, but powerful research.
        Consider advertising in the original sense of propaganda, government speeches, film and other media having this applied to them..

      • On a grander scale, that how insane conspiracies continue to live on; such as with the 9/11 Truthers. And that likely applies here. It doesn't matter that the facts don't support your conspiracy. All that matters is that propaganda fits the narrative people already know (government is bad). In my own opinion, much of the same applies to the pro-pirate fan base and their anti-corporate/money ideology (corporations are bad).

        In essence, the more you can re-enforce the narrative with propaganda, the more the pr

        • On a much, much grander scale you have people who are in denial that _their_ government would do such things as 9/11, even though conspiracies and governments go hand in hand throughout history.

          Saying that it's not even possible is just as bad as people who claim to know every piece of every puzzle.

          • I'm not sure if you're trolling or not but I guess I'm biting.

            Factually, the government is known to have done some really bad things. Factually, there is no evidence the government was involved in 9/11. Factually, there is tons of evidence it was done completely independently of government support. Factually, everything Truthers have brought up as a point of contention has been shot down by subject matter experts and all too frequently, physics.

            My post did not say conspiracies don't exist. They absolutely d

            • "Factually, Factually, Factually...9/11"

              Do you, hold all of these facts in your head or have you done extensive research into the subject where you've verified and authenticated all of your sources? Do the "facts" that you're referencing fit into your own narrative in your head?

              • Do you, hold all of these facts in your head or have you done extensive research into the subject where you've verified and authenticated all of your sources?

                Both. The fact you're asking means YOU'VE not bothered to do any real, honest research into both sides of the story and have rather allowed yourself to be shoved bullshit by conspiracy buffoons.

                There are endless amounts of information and even very detailed documentaries which exist specifically to dissect the propaganda put forward by the Truthers. Literally, the Truthers have no legs to stand once you bother to look at any of the real evidence.

                The History Channel or Discovery (forget which) has a very nic

      • "You've got people jumping on the notion that Wikileaks' recent problems are the result of an orchestrated plan to destroy it."

        Ah, but your post is part of that conspiracy!

        The news of the plot to kill wikileaks via fud was just barely posted, and suddenly people are crawling out of the woodwork loudly saying that the timeline doesn't work, and the facts don't fit all in an attempt to obscure the truth.

        And Darpa is involved, for heavens sake! What can it be but a military conspiracy?

        Therefore, it must be tru

      • In fact, I would say that the norm is for conceptual knowledge to be accessible by narrative form only, at least at first, only to be replaced more accurate schematics after more extensive experience and in depth study of the topic, if ever. (e.g. "Mister Sodium has an extra electron outside his complete shell; So by lending it to Miss Chlorine, she complete her outer shell, and they are both happier.")

        So it is not just a coincidence that people are easily influenced by stories, because they do not ever t
      • Denying a conspiracy involving WL is just the sort of thing I would expect from someone named jpmorgan!
    • Re:Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Atrox666 ( 957601 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @12:26PM (#35163050)

      Why do you think we have so much fantasy media where the rogue cop is the good guy.
      It's all propaganda.

      • Or the crime shows where the police follow the evidence to the criminal, rather than just interviewing everyone involved, picking someone they think is guilty, and then building a case against them.

        • Ever watch the real-reality show "48 Hours"? It follows actual homicide cops as they investigate actual cases.
          Watching it regularly has taught me that in the real world, useful forensic evidence is extremely rare. The vast majority of solved cases get solved because somebody rats out the perp(s).

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      The recipe is intuitively known to politician since ages. All you have to do is put together sentences that are grammatically correct and that put close to each others words that you want people to make an association between. "Freedom" and "intervention", "islamic" and "terrorism", "surgical" and "strike".

      Of course, logic is irrelevant in those sentences. Better : if they are illogically irrelevant, your adversaries will be tempted to expose the fallacy, which is usually done thanks to long sentences th
  • what stories in the new are going to piss you off so they can do an even better job censoring the news in the future.
    But on a serious note if you tell some one a bad story they get upset, happy story and they get happy. Duh it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out just a government employee.
  • DARPA has no intention of putting itself out of business. Their results will be biased.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      "Once upon a time, in a suburb of the capital of a large and powerful nation, there was a little agency called DARPA. DARPA was hard working and industrious and friendly and valuable to the nation, but DARPA lacked all the funding it needed! Oh, what was DARPA to do?"

    • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @12:11PM (#35162890) Homepage Journal

      Why are they spending tax payers money for what is already known and available through any field of story writing, be it fiction or fact or some combination?

      If there is any urgency it only because the near 7 billion people on this planet are starting to wise up to the less than 1% fabricating crap that causes problems for the rest of us. Ultimately we all are not going to need or be able to afford the ongoing BS produced by politicians and control freaks of war game players Instead those wasted resources on destructive technology can be far more effective in fixing real world problems and hence greatly reducing motivations of war and terrorism and... bla bla bla destructive fabrications for the self supported dependencies of the addicted to the mental handicap of having a lack of morals and ethics. And there can be plenty left over to put them into rehab for life.

      What the World Wants, but not the mentally handicapped control freaks [] otherwise it'd already be happening.

      What we have instead is even more on defense for 2011 than shown HERE []

      • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Thursday February 10, 2011 @03:05PM (#35164948)

        Their goal is to formalize the study of stories so that they can develop quantitative methods of tracking understanding stories. Whenever a new plant is "discovered" there are a bunch of people like you who say "well, the natives already knew of it". Yes, everyone knows about stories. But there is not a formal scientific approach to dealing with them, so they have a lot of untapped potential from a social engineering perspective. It's like building a bridge without a quantitative approach to design. Yes, people did it for thousands of years, but once they figured out the science behind it they got a lot better at it. DARPA is hoping they can achieve the same thing for stories.

        Their intent is to use this for military applications, but it's better than bombs, right? I'd rather fight wars through stories, honesty.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      DARPA has no intention of putting itself out of business. Their results will be biased.

      DARPA does a lot of research. Some of it has practical applications. Some of it doesn't. What has had practical use has been so useful that they can do a lot of other science projects without really worrying about funding. In short, they don't need to worry about the results of any one project being good or bad for them as an institution. Put the tin hat away. They are not going to bias results and create a non-functional result. Which would, in the end, reflect back on them.

      The potential usefulness of this

  • by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:29AM (#35162318)

    I would say stories can change quite a lot.

    • How can we tell what affect it had? I think without the Bible, mankind would still exhibit the same tendencies and sentiments, but with a little different branding. Nothing would be very different.

      I always wonder how North America would have turned out differently if some or all of the "founding fathers" hadn't formed a movement when they did. What if there hadn't been a revolutionary war? All of Britain's other far-flung colonies reached independence one way or another, sooner or later (Canada, Austr

      • There are large gaps, culturally, between the western world (Europe and the Americas) that is influenced by the Bible, and the Eastern world (China, India, etc.) that are not.

        • So without the Bible, culture would have been homogeneous throughout the world? That's obviously false. Clearly there were differences before it was written, which is why it's different than far-eastern texts in the first place. I agree it helped solidify what we call "western culture," then again without it something similar might have gained traction and filled that role. There's no way to know, because counter-factual histories are just as uncertain as the future is.

          My point isn't that nothing has

          • The large cultural differences you see mean that cultures do not evolve to be more or less the same. The differences could be genetic, or geographic, but there's little reason to believe that is the case. And culture can influence either of these (genetics through sexual selection, geography because people chose where they live). If you subscribe to the theory that it is a chaotic system, then it is indeed possible that something as simple as a story can have far-reaching effects. But if you believe cul

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A college student watches "The Social Network" and immediately throws their future away on a web 2.0 startup. DARPA might be on to something here.

  • With a study on video games... You can't have enough studies on this stuff, no matter how redundant they are.

  • Do they ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:37AM (#35162432)
    ... want to tell better stories? Or study the mythology of a culture to better understand their thinking? The former is a difficult problem, as attempting to inject new tales into a group is difficult. Aesop isn't writing any new fables, so anything unfamiliar or that doesn't jive with the established culture will stand out. The latter is a worthwhile endeavor. Many of our f*ckups in dealing with various groups stem from our cultural insensitivity. If we can learn to understand them based on their folklore, we may end up not falling on our faces quite as often.
    • I think the idea is that they can use this, along with information tracking, to see political events such as the riots that are now taking place in the middle east before they happen, and so that they can understand how to prevent them. And so that they can understand and engineer stories that will be effective in influencing people across cultural divides. They want to be able to do this with AI, so they need a formal scientific approach.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        I think the idea is that they can use this, along with information tracking, to see political events such as the riots that are now taking place in the middle east before they happen,


        and so that they can understand how to prevent them.


        And so that they can understand and engineer stories that will be effective in influencing people across cultural divides.

        Really bad.

        They want to be able to do this with AI, so they need a formal scientific approach.

        Hopeless. So I guess the good/bad stuff will all be hypotheical in the final analysis.

  • Actually, I think it was ENG 4160 or something like that, but the short name of the class was "folklore" with emphasis on oral transmission. 10 years ago I argued that the "oral" part was obsolete because of the advent of the Internet, and I was shot down by the Luddite professor. I wonder how the class is taught today?
  • DARPA the defense department research arm is obviously wanting to find out how propaganda works so they can form new propaganda and combat others propaganda. This is meta communication like the old idea of subliminal advertizing. They could just interview Carl Rove, that is his specialty. Finding the wedge issues like Gay Rights and the stories around what that is so bad and you should not pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

    Since it is Governement funded research, I wonder if we will find out abou

  • Maybe they can come up with counter-memes against Islamic (and other types of) fundamentalism.

    Wasn't there a novel like that? Some big, organized plan to undermine the legitimacy of some holy book by faking archaeological evidence amongst other methods. Maybe it was a movie, too.

  • by SloppyElvis ( 450156 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:48AM (#35162586)
    Reminded me of this: []
  • It doesn't take a DARPA grant to know that lots of people believe every film that Michael Moore and Oliver Stone make is factual and without bias. On second thought, Step 1: Take the grant money. Step 2: Spend five minutes debunking those films. Step 3: Profit.

  • Fox News (Score:5, Funny)

    by sir_eccles ( 1235902 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @11:54AM (#35162656)

    People apparently watch Fox news and believe everything they are told. I think it's some kind of witch craft, probably Obama's fault too.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From the Heinlein Concordance []:

    connotation index

            A tool used to measure the emotional impact of a word or phrase: a "complex variable function depending on context, age and sex and occupation of the listener, the locale and a dozen other things." Psychologists used the index to gauge the effectiveness of propaganda.

  • it is a serious psychological and sociological force in the world. al qaeda does it. fox news does it. its a part of our reality

  • Apparently DARPA does not. Just crack open a history book an read. For example, Hitler was an expert at the "Big Lie" and could feed people a line of BS (ahem, I meant "propaganda"). Also, it's not just what you say, it's how you say it.

    Besides, if you want to really, really want to get this down, just get the news media to explain it to you. CNN, Fox News, and many "journalist" personalities could teach DARPA exactly what they want to know.

  • Wow. That's a moronic name. That lowercase Y is ridiculous in so many levels...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      It's a code. If you spell it backwards and remove the 'y' you get TEN ROTS. This is obviously telling us that these 'stories' they want to come up with will really be secret messages encoded in ROT10. I've probably said too much.

  • by Mateorabi ( 108522 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @12:02PM (#35162760) Homepage
    "Darmok, and Jalad... at Tanagra!"
  • It's cultural, is it not? The value of metaphor and acceptance of history as a window to the future really determines just how people will react to stories.

    Just ask any philosopher who has studied his evolutionary philosophy or moral relativity.

  • If they want to see how much a story can affect someone and their daily day to day, they just have to get a subscription to Penthouse letters, and have some fun reading the stories.

  • You wanna know how this story influenced me? Here's basically how I read it. "DARPA in a nutshell wants to know how stories or narratives influence human behavior. To this end, they are hosting a workshop called blah blah blah (STORyNET): blah blah blah 'Stories exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They blah blah blah, blah blah. It comes as no surprise that blah blah blah blah blah"
  • by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 ) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @12:18PM (#35162976) Homepage

    I worked for the local university, which had a sweet tuition remission policy. I ended up taking classes in anything I was interested in, hopping from college to college. Linguistics, American Studies, Film Studies, lots of literature, some sociology and anthropology... After a few years of this, the university sent me a letter demanding that I declare a degree and f'ing graduate already, or they wouldn't let me take any more classes.

    The course load was so varied that it was hard for me to shoehorn it into a single field. I had to figure out what tied them all together.

    I realized that I had been studying the ways the stories and cultures interact and affect each other. Lots of semiotics, language, and that sort of idea encoding, but also study of cultural reactions and re-manifestations of stories to "fit the times." Propaganda was a big part of that. (I declared the program in early 2001. That September, I discovered a wealth of research material.)

    There was no discrete program to fit that into, but there *was* the catch-all "University Studies" degree: a sort of roll-your-own program that, if you could make a case for hanging your classes together somehow, you could graduate.

    I call my degree "Propaganda Studies" for my own amusement, I work in I.T. to pay the bills... but now I can go apply at DARPA! Fat government research grant, here I come!

  • Stories act as a placebo for the mind!
  • At a risk of stating obvious I'll point out that stories do much more than 'influence human behaviour in security context'. Stories have shaped entire cultures. (see for example The City of Words by Alberto Manguel, it is a fine read)

    If I would to extrapolate I might say that for every action that influenced certain culture it was either direct, like war or famine, or striking gold - but the people who experienced that directly are rarely majority. Most others experience this through retelling. Which can be

  • I have a cute narrative for DARPA. It's called Fuck You, Thought Police.

    Bob was reading a book one day called, Fuck You, Thought Police.

    Government thugs broke into his home, beat him, and took him to prison. They said he was a subversive. They said that although he hadn't committed any violent crime in the past, that he almost certainly would based on research conducted by well-meaning geeks who studied the effect of stories on people's thoughts and actions.

    Bob was never heard from again.

    The end.

  • There's another side to that - intelligence. Almost nobody expected the uprising in Egypt two weeks in advance, not even its current leadership. Few saw the downfall of the Soviet Union coming. More insight into noticing when something big like that is coming is useful.

  • Recall the Office of Strategic Influence to push happy press material outside the USA. []
    Then you also have a new effort in Israel for "new media fighters" to create better blogs/forum post ect.,7340,L-4025751,00.html []
    DARPA has seen the simple ideas of 'talking points' fail.
    Expect a lot more [] efforts to flush out "digital artifacts" ie keywords on a blog.
  • Pontypool. Ne pas traduire ce message.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.