University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers Noelle Troutman, Dr. Ingrid Haas and Dr. Rupal Mehta are using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to explore how biological and neural factors impact elite decision making in nuclear politics.
This is the first time fMRI technology is being used to advance inferencing within the nuclear security context. The project, "Ideology and risk: How neuroscience can inform nuclear security," is one of seven funded through the NSRI independent research and development (IRAD) program, launched in 2021.
The nature of strategic thinking, or the ability to ‘put oneself in another’s shoes,’ has long influenced the domain of international politics — the nuclear realm is no exception. At first glance, actors appear to be defined by significant institutional and cultural variation, such that developing a single framework capable of speaking to the escalation doctrines of each may be unlikely — if not impossible. The team argues otherwise. Namely, they advance a theory capable of speaking to the neural and behavioral underpinnings of all elite decision making in nuclear politics.
The team has completed two key milestones since launching the project in fall 2021:
- Experimental design developed
- IRB approval received
"With the IRB approval this project feels real," said Troutman who is serving as principal investigator for the project. "We are all excited to see what we will learn and how this concept could evolve going forward."
The team is now identifying subjects and pilot testing the fMRI experiment. They will analyze data collected from the neuroimaging process and report the results in an academic journal article for submission. They will also seek to present their experiential design and initial findings to further utilize their experimental design with elite leaders.
In an era of increasingly adept opponents who are capable of rapid technological and military innovation, the DOD can benefit immensely from understanding the biological and neurological components of strategic thinking in adversaries.
Learn more about NSRI's 2021 IRAD projects at nsri.nebraska.edu/irad2021.
Details about our strategic deterrence and nuclear programs are available at nsri.nebraska.edu/nuclear.
About the National Strategic Research Institute
Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska leading scientists deliver innovative national security research, technology, product and strategy development, training and exercises, and subject matter expertise to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. One of only 14 DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Centers in the country, NSRI is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command and works to ensure the United States’ safety and preparedness against increasingly sophisticated threats. Read about our mission.