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Psychological Factors in Radicalization: A "3N" Approach


We elaborate on three intertwined factors—needs, narratives, and networks—that are the theoretically viable and empirically supported components of radicalization. We emphasize the individual motivation that drives radical action, namely, the quest for significance, and the various mechanisms (i.e., uncertainty reduction, collectivistic shift, defense of sacred values) that make extremism likely once the quest for significance has been triggered. We also locate this motivation within the complex social reality of group dynamics and culture. The present model thus recognizes that an individual’s initial decision to pursue radical means is partially determined by a social network that introduces him or her to, and socially validates, a specific violence-justifying narrative. And, after joining the organization, the likelihood that the individual enacts extreme behavior is increased simply by the fact that many terror cells operate as small, like-minded, family-like groups. As we continue to learn about the radicalization process, we envision that one day these very factors can be co-opted to undo the process and provide a way out of radicalism. For that to happen, theoretical ideas concerning radicalization and its possible reversal would need to be translated into concrete, context-specific practices in various domains and venues (e.g., detention centers for violent extremists, schools, communities, etc.). Thus, a great deal of work remains to be done before effective counter- and de-radicalization procedures can be proposed. However, understanding what radicalization is and the psychology that underlies it constitutes an indispensable first step on that road. 

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Webber, David and Arie W. Kruglanski. 2017. "Psychological Factors in Radicalization: A "3N" Approach." In The Handbook of the Criminology of Terrorism, eds. Gary LaFree and Joshua Freilich. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 33-46. https://books.google.com/books?id=KRyfDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+Handbook+of+the+Criminology+of+Terrorism&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjjtoyszeLRAhWEOSYKHR1HA4wQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

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