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  1. Ian McGregor

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0336

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

McGregor, I. 2010. Extremism. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. York University, Ontario, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Moderation has long been identified as a hallmark of virtue. Pythagoras preached virtue from proper proportion among one's feelings, intuitions, and reasons. Plato depicted virtue as arising from reason's skill at bridling the extremes of appetite and spirit. Confucius, the Buddha, and Aristotle all promoted their own versions of a golden mean or middle-way between extremes. Given such praise for moderation, why are people so readily drawn to extremes of thought and action? Extremes seem especially enigmatic when one considers that they are so often self-destructive. For example, in the first century CE a group of religious fanatics who were uncompromising in their opposition to Roman rule carried daggers under their cloaks and killed anyone who did not fully support their views. Their extremism brought reprisals that crushed their “Zealot” sect, but the example of their rabid idealism persists as the origin of the word, “zeal.” Zealous extremism has accordingly come to refer to ideological conviction that belligerently insists on consensus, with apparent disregard for practical consequences.


  • uncertainty;
  • threat;
  • zeal;
  • conviction;
  • approach motivation