Motivation Personality Social Psychology

Ep 302: Violent Extremism: What’s the Psychology Behind It?

The Causes of Violent Extremism


What draws people toward violent extremist groups? Psychologists have conducted a lot of research to find this out and in this episode I summarize the findings of key researchers in this area. Researchers Arie Kruglanski, Katarzyna Jasko, David Webber, Marina Chernikova and Erica Molinario explain how their theory, called SQT or Significance Quest Theory explains what leads young people to join extremist groups.


  • Kruglanski, A., Jasko, K., Webber, D., Chernikova, M., & Molinario, E. (2018). The making of violent extremists. Review of General Psychology, 22(1), 107-120. doi:10.1037/gpr0000144

A couple key terms mentioned in this episode:

    • Cognitive Dissonance: if an extremist group can get a new member involved in a violent demonstration, this member might later increase their commitment to the group because the only way they can explain their behavior is to tell themselves that they did it because the group’s cause is so important
    • Group Polarization: if people with even slightly extreme views on a topic (extreme in either direction) get together and simply talk about the topic, each member will wind up becoming even more extreme about the topic than before the discussion. Various explanations have been offered for this, including the idea that during the discussion members are exposed to more reasons why they should believe what they are already inclined to believe.




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