A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Can verbal communication quell terrorist violence?

START researchers earn seed grant to investigate dyadic discourse
A team of START researchers recently won a seed grant from the University of Maryland ADVANCE Interdisciplinary and Engaged Research Seed Grant Program to investigate whether certain types of verbal communication by a government can reduce terrorist violence. The project will be the first empirical study that organizes finely-tuned data to understand the types of rhetoric that could effectively reduce violent tensions in sub-state conflicts and whether state policies can work regardless of the opponent's rhetorical response.
Anecdotal evidence has shown how an offhanded comment by a political figure can quickly go viral through social media and can even generate a rash of violence when their comment insults groups with a politically extreme component. Through this project, the START researchers hope to scientifically examine whether positive statements and comments could also shift attitudes and quell violence.
Led by principal investigators Laura Dugan, Brooke Fisher Liu and Erica Chenoweth, the research will draw from three distinct disciplines, investigating the effects of different types of government and opponent discourse (communication) on violent outcomes (criminology) in a political context (political science).


The project will both draw from Dugan and Chenoweth's START study, Government Actions in Terror Environments (GATE), and expand it. While the GATE data currently chronicles thousands of government actions directed toward terrorists and their constituencies (6,603 in Israel and 1,856 in Turkey), verbal discourse and gestures have largely been combined with material actions for analysis.

The new funding will allow the research team to separate out the verbal discourse and gestures to allow for a more thorough analysis that can further scholarship and inform practitioners and policymakers. GATE is funded through START by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's Office of University Programs.