The search for the terrorist ‘type’

BBC World Service has an excellent radio documentary on the history and practice of terrorist profiling.

Unlike many pieces on the psychology of terrorism, which tend to take a Hollywood view of the problem, it’s an insightful, critical and genuinely enlightening piece on the false promises and possibilities of applied psychology in the service of stopping terrorists.

Crucially, it looks at how the practice developed over time and how it’s been affected by the ‘war on terror’.

For decades researchers, academics and psychologists have wanted to know what kind of person becomes a terrorist. If there are pre-existing traits which make someone more likely to kill for their beliefs – well, that would be worth knowing… It’s a story which begins decades ago. But, with the threat from killers acting for so-called Islamic State, finding an answer has never felt more pressing.

Link to programme webpage, streaming and mp3.

2 thoughts on “The search for the terrorist ‘type’”

  1. isn’t the terrorist type the same as the molester type (or the saint, genius, hero type)? I think they’re looking in the wrong place. maybe start w/ environment instead of genes.

  2. That was a good programme, but I think that they should have mentioned Brevik. Brevik has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and you can tell from anything he says that he isn’t psychologically normal. He’s just one person of course, but he’s interesting because he isn’t the “normal” western idea of a terrorist – not muslim for one thing. So is there a difference between muslim and non-muslim terrorists? etc.

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