Psychologists versus Terrorists | University of Oxford
Francois Hollande speaks on TV about 2015 french terror attacks
Paris, France - Nov 13, 2015: French president Francois Hollande pictured on TV addressing the nation after a series of terrorist attacks.

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Psychologists versus Terrorists

Article outlines seven ways psychology research could beat terrorism 

Social psychology can provide vital insights for policy-makers in the fight against terrorism according to psychologists from the University of Kent and University of Oxford.

Writing in the US journal Scientific American Mind, Professor Dominic Abrams, of the University of Kent, and Dr Kevin Dutton, of the University of Oxford, suggest policy-makers should consider placing social psychology in the 'centre ground' of the war on terror.

When groups start becoming isolated from conventional society their innate propensity to 'swarm and norm' can 'form a springboard for cliques, cults and other kinds of extremists'.

The authors identify seven pieces of psychology research - including one led by Professor Abrams – that would provide policy-makers with valuable insights into the minds of those carrying out terrorist attacks. 

Professor Abrams' study, carried out with researchers from four other universities and entitled Knowing What to Think by Knowing Who You Are, showed that people tend to wrongly assume that people from the groups with which they identify have a clearer 'window on reality' than do people from other groups. 

Other research identified by Dutton and Abrams include studies showing how the presence of others can inhibit individuals from taking action in emergencies and why, for some people, identification with their group causes them to become depersonalised to the extent that they may be willing to carry out terrorist acts involving suicide. 

Dutton and Abrams claim that this type of psychological evidence has implications for policy-makers, including the need to frame policy to take account of the fact that when groups start becoming isolated from conventional society their innate propensity to 'swarm and norm' can 'form a springboard for cliques, cults and other kinds of extremists'. 

The two psychologists argue that: 'As we continue to grapple with the challenge of violent extremism, perhaps we should all take a brain check. Instead of lip-synching to the shrill braying of polemical pundits and belligerent blowhards, maybe we should tune in to the quieter, more discerning notes emanating from some of [psychological] laboratories.'