What are the psychological effects of consuming violence online?

Can our bodies tell the difference between recorded violence and real life danger?

SEBASTIAN JUNGER: The internet is sort of this crazy amazing and sometimes sort of bullying environment. In a way it's an exciting and a dangerous place. Because of the internet we can all of us now with a few clicks can watch video of incredible atrocities being committed against other people. That's new in human experience. I mean usually if you're watching someone's head get cut off you're in a situation where you're either part of that and you have some moral responsibility or your own head is about to get cut off. But either way your body goes into a sort of fight or flight reaction which is programmed by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. When you see violence your body is ready, readies itself to deal with violence.

So now what we can do is watch violence from the safety of our couch. Our body doesn't know we're sitting on our couch. The moral debate in our minds isn't engaged the way it is when someone's head is actually getting cut off in front of you. That has real consequence psychologically for people and personally I just don't watch anything online that I wouldn't be okay with seeing in person. Seeing violence up close and personally I know the effect that it's had on my psyche, on me as a person and I don't want it. I just don't watch it. And I do worry about young people who have access to this. It has to be harming them and we haven't had the internet long enough to see how that harm will play out through the course of someone's life.

  • "The internet is an exciting and a dangerous place," says journalist and documentarian Sebastian Junger.
  • He argues that because of thousands of years of evolution, our bodies react to seeing decapitations on screens as if they were happening in front of or to us.
  • According to Junger, the internet is too new for us to really understand the long-term effects it will have on our lives.

The never-ending trip: LSD flashbacks and a psychedelic disorder that can last forever

A small percentage of people who consume psychedelics experience strange lingering effects, sometimes years after they took the drug.

Imageman Rez via Adobe Stock
Mind & Brain
  • LSD flashbacks have been studied for decades, though scientists still aren't quite sure why some people experience them.
  • A subset of people who take psychedelics and then experience flashbacks develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), a rare condition in which people experience regular or near-constant psychedelic symptoms.
  • There's currently no cure for the disorder, though some studies suggest medications may alleviate symptoms.
Keep reading Show less

Mind and God: The new science of neurotheology

Studies show that religion and spirituality are positively linked to good mental health. Our research aims to figure out how and why.

Credit: Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Neurotheology is a field that unites brain science and psychology with religious belief and practices.
  • There are several indirect and direct mechanisms that link spirituality with improved mental health.
  • Compassion and love are positive emotions that will make your brain healthier.
Keep reading Show less

Asteroid impact: NASA simulation shows we are sitting ducks

Even with six months' notice, we can't stop an incoming asteroid.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Surprising Science
  • At an international space conference, attendees took part in an exercise that imagined an asteroid crashing into Earth.
  • With the object first spotted six months before impact, attendees concluded that there was insufficient time for a meaningful response.
  • There are an estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects potentially threatening our planet.
Keep reading Show less

Are lab–grown embryos and human hybrids ethical?

This spring, a U.S. and Chinese team announced that it had successfully grown, for the first time, embryos that included both human and monkey cells.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
In Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel “Brave New World," people aren't born from a mother's womb. Instead, embryos are grown in artificial wombs until they are brought into the world, a process called ectogenesis.
Keep reading Show less