The researchers looked at how significance loss, the threat of loss and the opportunity for significance gain increased adherence to the group ideology and the effect this has on self-empowerment and the readiness to self-sacrifice on the group's behalf.
"The quest for significance is a motivation that is common to all human beings, but it isn't active at all times and can be awakened in specific circumstances," Kruglanski said. "If you feel humiliated or belittled because of something you did or because of something others did to you, then you experience the need to restore your sense of significance."
Kruglanski said that if the group's ideology and belief system tells its members that they can restore their significance by engaging in violence and terrorism, then its members are inclined to do so. Kruglanski said that is why it's imperative to offer individuals an alternative route to feeling worthy and significant, a pro social path that is constructive and humane.
"We cannot defeat terrorism by violent or military means alone," Kruglanski said.
"The role of psychology is to guide activities, programs and policies in relevant domains such as education, immigration, and defense and foreign affairs, so as to reverse the tide of radicalization."
The study was based upon work supported by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
The article is expected to be published in the American Psychologist journal in 2013.