The Psychology of Terrorism

Alienation, a belief that membership of a movement offers social and psychological rewards (e.g. adventure, camaraderie, a heightened sense of identity) and the need to take action rather than just talk: three psychological traits that together create part of the profile of those most “open to terrorist recruitment and radicalization”.

In addition to profiles like that above and different theories about what can lead to radicalisation, this overview of the psychological research into terrorism also discusses terror management theory:

Paradoxically, an unconscious fear of death may underlie much of the motivation behind terrorism and reactions to terrorism, maintains psychologist Tom Pyszczynski [et al.]. Pyszczynski developed “terror management theory,” which holds that people use culture and religion to protect themselves from a fear of death that lies on the fringes of awareness.

Across dozens of studies, the team has induced thoughts of death by subliminally presenting people with death-related stimuli or by inserting a delay-and-distraction task between a reminder of death and people’s assessment of its effects. This subliminal prompting induces people to psychologically defend themselves against death in ways that bear little surface relationship to the problem of death, Pyszczynski’s team has found. These include clinging to their cultural identities, working hard to live up to their culture’s values and going to great lengths to defend those values. (Conversely, the investigators have shown that getting people to consciously contemplate their mortality increases their intention to engage in life-enhancing behaviors, such as exercise.)

via Mind Hacks

2 thoughts on “The Psychology of Terrorism

  1. JM

    Alienation, a belief that membership of a movement offers social and psychological rewards (e.g. adventure, camaraderie, a heightened sense of identity) and the need to take action rather than just talk

    Other than alienation, I can see these attributes apply to anyone that joins an armed force, ‘terrorist’ or not. Many believe they are upholding some greater idea, will experience a bit of adventure and the ‘brotherhood of battle’ and are objective-oriented.

  2. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    JM,

    Admittedly these attributes are a just three of seven identified, but I did choose them hinting towards such a comparison (not necessarily the armed forces, either — but any political force, violent or not).

    But then do armed forces recruiters not enlist most recruits from lower class areas or those areas struggling with social hardships? If one were so inclined you could say that it is almost preying on those with limited choices, offering them an ‘out’ into a possibly successful career.

    Of course, this a generalisation and I don’t imply this across the board of the armed forces: just a small sub-section.

Comments are closed.