Understanding the emotional reasons for extremism may be key to preventing terrorist groups' growth, according to several social scientists drawing on past experience and recent studies. This new article by Scientific American summarizes the reflections of two social psychologist teams and one anthropologist working with terror prevention.

Conclusions drawn from the report include the following:

  • Normal human motivations toward doing good can, in the wrong situation, lead to participation in terrorism: "the majority [of terrorists] are ordinary people, shaped by group dynamics to do harm," according to social psychologists Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam. Those "group dynamics" are in fact fed by the "overreaction and fear" of a nonviolent public.
  • Parents must talk to their children about the danger of internet recruitment groups, but "only the tug of emotion, not reason, can pull teens back from the call to jihad," according to Dounia Bouzar, an anthropologist.
  • Social psychologists Kevin Dutton and Dominic Abrams suggest "celebrating broader social identities" to avoid alienating or radicalizing people who do not feel safe in their societies' majority groups.

To read the full report, visit the Scientific American website.