Individuals willing to be contacted for information and/or leading groups of activists striving for truth around the crimes of 9-11-2001. To request your name be added to this list, or to change or remove your information, please utilize the Contact form linked at the righthand column.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Terrorists: What Are They Thinking?


We often dismiss terrorists as non-humans, monsters, at first. But when we learn that they were seemingly normal individuals with families and jobs, it’s hard not to wonder about how their minds really work.
The search for a terrorist “personality” or “mindset” dominated psychological research in the 1970s and 1980s and remains a significant area for research today. A new study published in Nature Human Behavior, which assessed the cognitive and psychological profiles of 66 Colombian paramilitaries imprisoned for committing terrorist acts, now argues that poor moral reasoning is what defines terrorists.
The idea behind such research is obvious – it’s to identify stable, predictive traits or “markers” of terrorist personalities. If we could do that, we may be able to predict who will become a terrorist – and perhaps prevent it. But this type of research is viewed by many psychologists, myself included, with extreme caution. Researchers carrying out such studies typically use a myriad of psychometric measures, personality and IQ tests in various contexts. But there’s no consensus on how useful these tests are.
And even if we did manage to pin down terrorist markers, what would we do with this knowledge? Would we all be tested across our lifespan? What would happen if we had a marker?
The term “terrorist mindset” is also problematic because it fuels the notion that terrorists are abnormal, resulting in knee-jerk endeavors to uncover the abnormality. For psychologists, abnormal suggests presence of a disorder, deficit or illness which makes terrorists “sick” or different.
This idea seems plausible because it helps us come to terms with extreme behavior.
But terrorist atrocities are undoubtedly the end of a chain of events which only achieve significance with the benefit of hindsight. By focusing on the event itself, how the terrorist was behaving at that time or how he/she may have been thinking in the immediate run up, our understanding becomes distorted. This is because the process of becoming a terrorist has been overlooked.
Of course it’s not easy to get hold of terrorists prior to an attack. Most research therefore concerns terrorists that have been caught or are suspected terrorists. The new study did just this. Imprisoned Columbian paramilitaries completed a battery of social-cognitive tests, creating individual profiles – including assessments of moral cognition, IQ, executive functioning, aggressive behavior and emotion recognition. They were then compared with 66 non-criminals.
The researchers found terrorists had higher levels of aggression and lower levels of emotion recognition than non-criminals. However, no differences were found between the groups for IQ or executive functioning. The biggest difference between the terrorists and the other group was seen in moral cognition – they found that terrorists are guided by an abnormal over-reliance on outcomes. The authors argue that this distorted moral reasoning – that the ends justify themeans – is the “hallmark” of a terrorist mindset. They assessed moral judgement by asking participants to rate various stories according to levels of unjustified aggression.
The results are intriguing and seem intuitive. But we cannot be sure that this profile wasn’t a result of their incarceration – we know that prison distorts cognition. If not, was it present from birth or did it develop in the run up to becoming part of a terrorist group?
These questions cannot be answered, yet they are fundamental. Headline statements from high-profile research of this nature can be misleading and counter-productive. Despite its appeal, there is no scientific support for the idea that terrorists are psychopaths or have a personality disorder.
Often research is contradictory – some researchers argue that their findings show terrorists to be suicidal while others claim they are extrovert, unstable, uninhibited, aggressive, defensive or narcissistic.
In fact, psycho-pathological behaviors are more likely to conflict with a terrorist agenda than aid it – it after all relies on commitment, motivation and discipline.
Luckily, the more we find out about terrorists’ quest for significance the better we can understand the identity and social issues that are fundamental to radicalization. So there’s every reason to be optimistic that psychology can be a powerful tool in the fight against terrorism.

The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth,

Jonathan Chambers
Patriot Vigilante

No comments:

Post a Comment