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Genesis of Terrorism

An exploration of the causes of terrorism and of the conditions that produce them
Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology University at Buffalo www.PsychologyofTerrorism.com

Distinguishing Terrorism from Other Types of Terror

Terrorism can be distinguished from other types of terror in that it is:


goal oriented not gratuitous always directed at a larger audience designed to produce a positive societal change facilitated by both active supporters and sympathizers

Terrorism is usually viewed as a glorious endeavor by its perpetrators


One persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter.
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Terrorism Support Base


Actual terrorists Active supporters Passive supporters Sympathizers
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Perspectives on Terrorism

Syndrome view (pathological terror looking for a cause?)


Terrorist activity fulfills some psychological need Identifiable characteristics

individuals groups

Tool view (social activism looking for a solution?)


Terrorist activity has a strategic objective More evasive identifiable characteristics

means-ends psychology uses terrorism when other means are not effective in achieving the desired ends individual and group traits are likely to be more subtle
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Terrorism as a Syndrome

Emphasizes psychological characteristics of the individual that lead to terrorism


Individual profiling is valid Violence prone individuals select terrorism as the preferred path to social-political change More similar to pathological terror than to criminal terror

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Terrorism as a Tool

Emphasizes social-political conditions of the environment that lead to terrorism


Individual profiling has limited utility (group profiling probably more useful) Individuals not necessarily prone to violence select terrorism as the only viable path to socialpolitical change More similar to criminal terror than to pathological terror
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Hybrid View

Emphasizes individual adaptations to the perception of social-political conditions (e.g., social cognition) Some individuals may more easily turn to terrorist solutions than others
Individual profiling potentially somewhat useful Some elements of both pathological and criminal terror
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Out of the rubble of despair comes the hope for change . . . and another terrorist is born.
Social, political, and economic disparity breed discontent. Discontent sometimes leads to despair that can spawn terrorism. Civilizations once great often seek to return to their former grandeur. Religious fervor can give spiritual meaning to the struggle, and the struggle can provide purpose for life itself.

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Path to Terrorism: Model #1

From Borum, 2003

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Path to Terrorism: Model #2


Social, Political, Economic, or Religious Strife
Feelings of Empowerment and Ability to Affect Change Adaptive Coping Response Psychological Despair and Feelings of Hopelessness Blame Self Psychological Depression Suicide Psychopathologial
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Blame Others Indoctrination into culture of hatred Homicide Criminal Terrorist

Social-Political Activism Democratic Reform or alternative evolution of social structure

Path to Terrorism: Model #3


Learning, conditioning, and social modeling are important factors for understanding the spread of terrorism Brain Washing
Sm all Gro up

Psy cho log ica l Fac tor s

Modeling Behavior

Dy nam Lar ics ge

Social Contagion Theory


Soc iol ogi cal
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Terrorism and Social Modeling

Modeling behavior can explain many aspects of terrorist behavior for those born into a culture of terrorism, but it fails to explain the genesis of the terrorist movement
Modeling behavior may offer an adequate explanation for the soldiers but not for the leaders of terrorist movements Social learning approaches to understanding terrorism have limited utility
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Terrorists Mindset

Identification of problem Social/political/economic injustice Identification of cause Oppressive group creating the inequity/injustice Identification of solution Radical change through the use of terror Process actualization Learning to Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D. kill

Progression to Terrorist

The transition to terrorism might be viewed within the general framework of motivational psychology
To do or not to do? Approach Behavior (no conflict) Approach-Approach Conflict Approach-Avoidance Conflict

A simple motivational analysis focuses on the dynamic interactions of three classes of variables
Increased motivation to affect change Decreased competitive behaviors

alternative paths to change others things to do

Decreased inhibitions restraining the use of violence


Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Motivational Analysis: Factor #1 Intensified Motivation for Change

Commonly experienced psychological condition yielding varied responses


Goal unobstructed

Work merrily away pursuing the good life Increased effort to obtain goal through normal channels Search for alternative methods of obtaining goal Search for substitute goals
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Goal obstructed

Motivational Analysis: Factor #2 Diminished Competing Behaviors

Multiple choices of goals complicate life and diminish motivational focus for any single goal People are much less willing to giveup their life when they have something to live for and not just the promise of a better afterlife
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Motivational Analysis: Factor #3 Diminished Inhibitions for Violence

Single most important factor for understanding why some people progress from activists to terrorists Moral disengagement can explain the psychological transformation necessary for otherwise normal people to engage in terrorist activity
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Killing Another Human Being is Seldom Easy

Homicide
accidental (most people are naturally capable) fit of rage (many people are naturally capable) premeditated (few people are naturally capable)

Moral disengagement facilitates the process


unnecessary for a few people (e.g., natural born killers) can be serendipitous or systematically programmed

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Moral Disengagement
From Bandura, 1990

Moral justification Sanitizing the language Diffusion or displacement of responsibility Attribution of blame to victims Dehumanization of victims

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Three Variables Can Shift the Precarious Balance from Activism to Terrorism
Terrorism
Competing alternative behaviors Inhibition of violent behavior Motivation for change

Activism

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Transitioning to Terrorism
l nt ora e M agem g en dis

Actual terrorists

ve ati rn lte d a rs on he vio ati tiv nis ha mi be mo Di ied sif ten In

Active supporters Passive supporters Sympathizers

thy pa Em

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

The reasons for the conflict are usually quite obvious The reasons for the transition into terrorist action are often less clear

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

What factors produce the transition from inactivity to activity?


Intensified motivation? Diminished competing behaviors?

From supporter to active participant?


Diminished inhibitions?

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Some Psychological Principles within the Realm of Normal Behavior Applicable to Terrorist Behavior

Frustration-aggression Displacement behavior (beyond above) Modeling behavior Social contagion (beyond above) Social cognition Moral disengagement Classical and operant conditioning
Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Levels of Involvement

Organizers/Leaders Active Followers Supporters Sympathizers

Initiate the movement

Sustain the movement

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

If the source of the conflict cannot be peacefully resolved, then


Counter-terrorism efforts should target foremost the organizers/leaders

They are essential to the organization They are often not easy to replace

Unfortunately the followers are usually the ones easiest to capture


Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.

Sources
Bandura, A., et al. (1996). Mechanism of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 364-374. Borum, R. (2003). Understanding the terrorist mind-set. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July, 1-10.

Copyright 2006 Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.