The psychology of terrorism

london_crest.jpgIn the wake of suspicion that the London bombings were carried out by British nationals, many have asked what motivates acts of terror. Psychologist Andrew Silke studies the psychology of terrorism to try and find out.

Despite the insanity of the acts, one of the most common myths is that terrorists are mentally unbalanced in some way. In an article written shortly after 9/11 (PDF) he noted that even for suicide bombers, evidence for psychopathology or personality disorders is scant.

Work on the impact of terrorist attacks has been most recently focused on the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Silke notes in a more recent article (PDF), that although, in general, being closer to the Twin Towers was related to higher levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for other people, stress was related to exposure to television reporting.

The effects on people’s desire for revenge was, perhaps, contrary to expectation:

It was interesting to note, however, that Johll and Brant (2002) also found that New York City residents actually reported a lower need for
vengeance than other Americans. As one firefighter in their study put it: “I wouldn’t wish what happened to us on anyone.”

Suggesting that experience of terrorist attacks, can make people less likely to want more violence to return.

Needless to say, the psychology of terrorism and terrorists is now being heavily researched, as very little was known about it before 2000.

PDF of 2004 article ‘Terrorism, 9/11 and Psychology’ by Andrew Silke
PDF of 2001 article ‘Terrorism’ by Andrew Silke
Link 1 , link 2 and link 3 to coverage from PsyBlog on psychology of terrorism.
Link to summary fof 2004 conference from BBC News.

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