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

US Muslims with radical opinions feel more alienated and depressed

Results from a seven-wave survey

Negative feelings and emotions are related to political opinions, including radical opinions, of U.S. Muslims, according to new study from START. The new report, which details results from the seventh wave of a survey of U.S. Muslims, shows that the same factors of alienation and depression common among lone actor terrorists are also found among individuals with radical opinions.

Positive opinions about ISIS and about suicide bombing were positively correlated with alienation and depression scales that measure feelings of isolation, social rejection and depression.

“Since this project began in 2012, we have seen trends of decreased radicalization over time in the general U.S. Muslim population alongside a crystallizing radical minority,” said Clark McCauley, professor emeritus of psychology at Bryn Mawr College. He co-authored the study with Sophia Moskalenko, a START postdoctoral research fellow at Bryn Mawr. 

Throughout the course of the study, U.S. Muslims steadily have held very negative opinions of suicide bombing and of ISIS, and steadily favored allowing more Syrian refugees into the United States. However, the percentage of those holding a “very unfavorable” opinion of ISIS decreased by 10 percent between Wave 6 (Fall 2016) and Wave 7 (Spring 2017), while responses of “somewhat favorable” increased by 3 percent.

“There is still much unknown about the emerging patterns linking negative psychological states with radical opinions – why alienation/disconnection is related to depression/distress or whether additional measures of depression would produce stronger correlations with political opinions,” McCauley said. “But what is clear is that these psychological measures are somehow related and it is time to consider some practical implications.”

McCauley and Moskalenko suggest adapting or expanding counterterrorism efforts to rely more on mental health services and community building than on surveillance of communities at risk of radical opinions and violent action.

Read the full report, “U.S. Muslims with Radical Opinions Feel More Alienated and Depressed,” here.