When Lying Gets You Killed: Social Desirability Bias and Violent Extremism in the African Sahel

2:30pm - 3:30pm

8400 Baltimore Ave., Suite 250, College Park, MD 20740

On Tuesday, July 17 at 2:30 pm John McCauley will present on social desirability bias and violent extremism at START headquarters. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are appreciated. Social desirability bias—or lying to fit in—can have important substantive consequences. This study uses data from over 5,000 respondents in 34 communes in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger collected just prior to and just after a recent wave of terrorist attacks to evaluate the consequences of over- or under-reporting support for violent extremism. We find that communes where individuals under-report their true support for violent extremism have a greater probability of experiencing subsequent Islamist attacks, as government security forces overlook those areas. Moreover, a commune’s experience of an attack then results in lower levels of under-reporting of extremist support in subsequent surveys, as residents openly express support for terrorists to signal their compliance.

John McCauley is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, and a Research Associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management. He is the author of The Logic of Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2017). He has conducted field research in over ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is currently engaged in a multi-country study of violent extremism in the Sahel. He received his B.A. in Economics from William & Mary, his M.A. in International Relations from Yale, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from UCLA.