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The psychological basis for terrorism and terrorists



1.0 Introduction

The present research paper sheds light on the evidences that explain the psychological basis for terrorism and terrorists. The paper summarizes the agreeing and disagreeing responses and approaches of the accredited scholars and practitioners both regarding the terrorist organizations. Structurally, the essay explores mindsets of people joining the terrorist organizations followed by the evaluation relevance of psychopathology and individual personality for understanding or preventing terrorism. Correspondingly, the paper summarizes the vulnerabilities of the terrorist groups so as to measure its impact on the economic stability of a nation. The main theme or the thesis statement for this paper is to determine the psychological basis for terrorism and terrorists.

2.0 People join terrorist organizations

In literature, Hudson (1999) specified that psychology of terrorism is determined to be marked more by theory and opinion both. In fact, many accredited scientists and investigators have started to assemble reliable data indicating the factors that drives people to join terrorist organizations.  Borum (2007) explained that behavioral factors are more likely to shape the decisions among people about joining the terrorist organizations. In terrorist organizations, recruitment tends to involve people with alienated and angry behavior. People believing that their existing political involvements are not enough and effective in bringing real change are more likely to get involved in such organizations. In likewise manner, people perceiving themselves as victims of the social justice prefer to take such extreme actions. Moreover, Borum (2014) argued that people joining the terrorist organizations possess the strong mindsets that engaging in violent acts is not the immoral state.  They consider their involvement in terrorist organizations as a social and psychological reward which mainly includes a sense of adventure, identity and camaraderie. On the other hand, Phillips (2015) stated that people joining terrorist organizations possess individual characteristics that are beyond psychological attributes. The social and economic disturbance is also a main factor that enhances people’s preference towards the involvement in such violent acts.  In accordance to Borum (2014), the cultural values play a significant role in paradoxical involvement of people with terrorist organizations. The cultural values trigger the sense among people which reduced the unconscious fear of death. This sense significantly underlies the motivation of creating reactions for society among them.

3.0 Relevance of psychopathology for understanding or preventing terrorism

In psychopathology, the mental disorders are collectively analyzed in accordance with the mental health of people. In the case of terrorism, psychopathology is the major factor that drives the interest and preference among people about participating in terrorist based violent acts (Louis 2015). In accordance to Borum (2014), terrorism is phenomenological approach of narcissism which described the constant statement of deficient. The key emphasize of terrorist based acts is to give rise to the psychopathology because it naturally follows the human disaster. Certainly, Coppock and McGovern (2014) argued that in some senses, the theory of terrorism can represent or picture the psychopathology of people against society and culture.  Basically, in the current era, security environments are likely to question terrorism among gravest of threats. The massive resources including governmental and private sectors are committed towards preventing terrorism across the globe. However, Kruglanski, Jasko, Chernikova, Dugas and Webber (2017) cited that psychopathology is the evident source or reason that synthesizes terrorism among people. To be specific, certain psychological behaviors are there that influence the scientific, legal and logical discipline among people. It necessarily gives rise to the approaches relating to productive and reasonable aspects of human behavior. Generally, Williams and Lindsey (2014) stated that psychopathology can influence ideological, civilian, religious and political approaches and objective among people. In fact, it is regarded as an intentional reason that drives terrorist organizations across the globe.

4.0 Relevance of individual personality for understanding or preventing terrorism

In psychological studies, individual personality traits are defined as the attributes that forms human behavior. These individual traits depict the distinction among people. The personality traits involving psychological behaviors including likes and dislikes are the factors that motivate people to understand or prevent terrorism. In certain cases, the individual personality of the people showing their faith and believe in cultural aspects are likely to influence their perception about terrorism (Neo, Khader, Ang, Ong & Tan, 2014). Moreover, Liddle and Shackelford (2014) stated that people with aggressive behavior are more likely to fall in the trap of terrorism because they are easy to be motivated. In actual, in dozen of relevant studies, it has been observed that delay-and-distraction task are mainly performed by the people who like destructions and damage. Furthermore, the psychology and psychiatry reasons can contribute towards the integration of intellectual resources among people. These factors can strengthen the opinion of people about the terrorism related factors.

Hudson (1999) also stated that literature available for terrorism has compiled numerous definitions for this term. Many of these definitions suggest that the lack of consensus is a major factor that influences people in getting involved in such acts. In most cases, lack of consensus relates with inescapable and negativity among people up to a very high extent.  Phillips (2015) argued that the common definition of terrorism describes the fact that terrorism involves aggression against several cultural, ideological, religious and social aspects. Contemporarily, terrorism integrates influences for the targeted audience with the end goal of motivating them to understand the change within audience.  Coppock and McGovern (2014) cited that typology of terrorism is defined as a complex as well as the controversial subject because it is characterized in accordance with the human behaviors.

5.0 Vulnerabilities of terrorist groups

According to Kruglanski, et al., (2017), many accredited scholars have paid considerable amount of attention towards the evaluation of vulnerabilities of terrorist groups. Out of all, the ability to capture and kill leaders and scrutiny of terrorist operational requirements are the key vulnerable aspects associated with terrorist groups. Phillips (2015) argued that relative inattention of the terrorist movements are likely to relate with the development of such organizations across the globe. The ignorance towards the inner working conditions of different nations has transformed the way such violent bodies take place.  Considering these aspects, many concerned associates or relevant bodies can ensure to continue the devotion to intelligence. 

Williams and Lindsey (2014) argued that several issues are there that influence the way people relate with the advancement of terrorism bodies. The terrorism based organizations are inefficient in terms of their causes and reasons of development. Liddle and Shackelford (2014) stated that lack of political and economic stabilities are the key reasons that enhance the vulnerabilities for the terrorist groups.  The lack of involvement of such groups with the intelligence communities are further likely to relate with the integration of such vulnerable companies. These aspects are instrumental in shaping the vulnerabilities of terrorist based groups.

6.0 Impact of leaders being removed from their positions either by dying or being overthrown

The leaders are the actual drivers of a nation because they are accountable of directing and guiding people. The terrorism is the main source of removal of leaders from a society or region. Terrorism is an ultimate reason of death and overthrowing of people or the leaders. These are the certain cases that lead towards the instability of a nation or the country (Louis 2015). Kruglanski, et al., (2017) argued that lack of leaders in a nation can give rise to the terrorism based acts. The terrorism is a source of degradation of a society because it causes emotional, psychological and financial disturbance for the people. Mainly, the terrorist groups target the audience via leaders because they lose directions and guidance with the death and overthrowing of the leaders. In general, people with the terrorist based organizations can affect the stability of the nation because it is the source of destruction and damage. Borum (2007) argued that terrorist based groups vary from each other on the basis of their operational requirements. However, it is clear that leaders form the centre of gravity for such bodies. These leaders matter because they structure the overall approach and opinion of people regarding the prime state sponsors.

7.0 Conclusion

Concisely, it can be analyzed that aggressiveness and angry behavior among people forms the mindsets that give rise to their preferences towards the terrorist based organizations. It has been noted that psychological factors form the basis of terrorism among people because it has been noted that individual characteristics and psychopathology are the actual drivers that facilitate people in either understanding or preventing terrorism. To be specific, it can be argued that individual characteristics of the people shape their behavior and approaches towards civilian, ideological, religious and cultural aspects. Consequently, these behaviors can facilitate people in shaping their approach towards terrorism.  Overall, it has been further noted that leaders and operational requirements are the actual vulnerabilities for the terrorist based organizations. Likewise, the terrorism can cause damage for the leaders because it can turn out to be the source of death and overthrowing for them. These aspects can cause changes for the national and regional development of the country.


Borum, R. (2007). Psychology of terrorism. University of South Florida Tampa Dept Of Mental Health Law And Policy.

Borum, R. (2014). Psychological vulnerabilities and propensities for involvement in violent extremism. Behavioral sciences & the law, 32(3), 286-305.

Coppock, V., & McGovern, M. (2014). ‘Dangerous Minds’? Deconstructing CounterTerrorism Discourse, Radicalisation and the ‘Psychological Vulnerability’of Muslim Children and Young People in Britain. Children & Society, 28(3), 242-256.

Hudson, R. A. (1999). The sociology and psychology of terrorism: Who becomes a terrorist and why?. Library Of Congress Washington Dc Federal Research Div.

Kruglanski, A. W., Jasko, K., Chernikova, M., Dugas, M., & Webber, D. (2017). To the fringe and back: Violent extremism and the psychology of deviance. American Psychologist, 72(3), 217.

Liddle, J. R., & Shackelford, T. K. (2014). Evolutionary Psychological Science of Suicide Terrorism. Understanding Suicide Terrorism: Psychosocial Dynamics, 42-59.

Louis, W. (2015). Counter-terrorism responses: Can psychology contribute?. InPsych: The Bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society Ltd, 37(1), 32.

Neo, L. S., Khader, M., Ang, J., Ong, G., & Tan, E. (2014). Developing an early screening guide for jihadi terrorism: A behavioural analysis of 30 terror attacks. Security Journal.

Phillips, B. S. (2015). Understanding Terrorism: Building on the Sociological Imagination. Routledge.

Williams, M. J., & Lindsey, S. C. (2014). A social psychological critique of the Saudi terrorism risk reduction initiative. Psychology, Crime & Law, 20(2), 135-151.


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