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The Psychology of Radicalization and Deradicalization: How Significance Quest Impacts Violent Extremism

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Abstract

We present a model of radicalization and deradicalization based on the notion that the quest for personal significance constitutes a major motivational force that may push individuals toward violent extremism. Radicalization is defined as the process of supporting or engaging in activities deemed (by others) as in violation of important social norms (e.g., the killing of civilians). In these terms, radicalization (1) is a matter of degree (in which mere attitudinal support for violence reflects a lower degree of radicalization than actual engagement in violence); (2) represents a subjective judgment proffered by those for whom the violated norms seem important but not by those who have devalued or suppressed the norms in question.

Our radicalization/deradicalization model contains three crucial components: (1) the motivational component (the quest for personal significance) that defines a goal to which one may be committed, (2) the ideological component that in addition identifies the means of violence as appropriate for this goal's pursuit, and (3) the social process of networking and group dynamics through which the individual comes to share in the violence-justifying ideology and proceeds to implement it as a means of significance gain. We present empirical evidence consistent with our model's assumptions and discuss its implications for policies of preventing radicalization and effecting deradicalization.

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