New study aims to uncover exactly what is happening in the brain when an individual is persuaded to change their beliefs. Researchers using  functional magnetic resonance imaging can understand what areas of the brain “light up” when specific messages are heard. The project has been awarded $3.4 million by the Defense Department’s Minerva Research Initiative.

New research study lead by Political Scientist Robert Pape and Neuroscientist Jean Decety plans to take on this problem in an effort to determine exactly how cultures of martyrdom mobilize support for their most violent acts, especially suicide attacks.

Video can be a powerful tool of persuasion for groups like ISIS. These “martyr videos” are often highly produced last testaments of suicide bombers who use the medium as a means of expressing their motivation to act, in hopes of inspiring new recruits to embrace the same mode of thinking. While these types of videos have been produced for decades, it is only since the advent of high quality, inexpensive production equipment and software, as well as efficient means of global distribution via social networks, that martyr videos have become an integral part of recruitment strategies.

“In combination with psychological dispositions, the methodology will enable us to predict whether violent extremist organization appeals will resonate with and influence the receiver,” said Decety.