Oct 24, 2011 (10:10 AM EDT)
DARPA Investigates Storytelling As Security Science

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking to create technology that can understand the effect narratives have on human psychology and then use that information to influence people in security situations.

"Narratives exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior," according to a Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) request for proposals for a program called Narrative Networks. "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."

The agency said that because of these influences, narratives play an important role in the context of security during military and intelligence engagements. "For example, they change the course of insurgencies, frame negotiations, play a role in political radicalization, influence the methods and goals of violent social movements, and likely play a role in clinical conditions important to the military such as post-traumatic stress disorder," according to the RFP.

The agency said that understanding the role stories play in a security context, as well of the "spatial and temporal dimensions" of that role is especially important to the research it's doing for the program.

[Cost-cutting and efficiency will be the name of the government game, as Federal IT Budgets Flat Through 2017.]

DARPA has structured the Narrative Networks program into two 18-month phases, with the option of a third phase if needed.

The first phase will lay the foundation for the technology, engaging in a range of research subjects. The second phase will use the findings from the first phase to build prototype hardware, software, and devices that can achieve the program's goal.

Areas of research the program will encompass are diverse, ranging not only from the usual technology areas but also into neurobiology and neurochemistry, according to the RFP.

Narrative Networks is not the first time DARPA has explored research that attempts to analyze psychological or real-world behaviors and create technology to apply them to influence or change military situations.

The agency also is engaged in social media research, attempting to mine how people use sites like Facebook and Twitter to tweak social messaging that may influence the outcome of security or military engagements.

DARPA also has a program that aims to examine the psychological and behavioral signs of when someone might pose a threat to his or her colleagues and develop technology to catch these threats before they happen.