Psychology of Terrorism: Classic and Contemporary Insights, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Psychology of Terrorism

Classic and Contemporary Insights, 1st Edition

Edited by Jeff Victoroff, Arie W. Kruglanski

Psychology Press

512 pages | 44 B/W Illus.

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Substate terrorism now represents one of the gravest threats to human civilizations. As the frequency of interstate wars has declined since the end of the Second World War, terrible violence against innocent civilians is increasingly perpetrated by non-state groups with extreme agendas and virtually no restraints. Why do people become terrorists? Are terrorists crazy? Simply evil? Normal people driven to extremes? What social factors and tensions are most likely to provoke terrorist behaviors? And how can we use our rapidly growing understanding of the psychology of terrorism to anticipate oming attacks and protect the international community?

Psychology of Terrorism is a collection of the best classic and contemporary writings about the mind of the terrorist. Carefully selected by a panel of world-renowned authorities for value and readability, this collection provides the reader with deep knowledge and unique insights into the ideas, feelings, and social influences of modern terrorist groups. General readers who wish to understand this deadly phenomenon, students and scholars of human psychology or political science, and decision makers facing the challenge of designing effective counterterrorism policies will enjoy and profit from these essential readings and the inescapable conclusion they suggest: By ignoring the psychology of terrorism, Western nations have been making grave errors in the so-called war on terrorism. Understanding the deep roots of terrorist behaviors gives us tools that are absolutely vital to any effort in reducing this escalating threat.


“Despite its obvious relevance, until recently psychology has had a relatively small footprint in the study of terrorism. This large volume by two well-established researchers, Jeff Victoroff (a psychiatrist) and Arie Kruglanski (a psychologist), may go far in changing that. The editors have assembled 28 readings on the psychology of terrorism that explore all things psychological, from motivation and intent, to rational aspects of terrorism, to strategies for countering terrorists. They strike a nice balance between classics and important recent contributions.” - Gary LaFree, Director, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), University of Maryland

"One of the most important contributions of this volume is its educational value. In fact, this volume could serve as the basis for a course on the psychology of terrorism, both in terms of content and structure (which could be used to organize a semester-long course). Perhaps the key strength of this volume is its central emphasis on the importance of the person/situation interaction. The volume marks a distinct advance for curricula and pedagogy in the psychology of terrorism, and may serve to establish it as more of a standard area of research and teaching for social psychologists". - Lemieux, Anthony F. (2009), Review of Psychology of Terrorism: Classic and Contemporary Insights. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149(5) 606-608

Table of Contents

Introduction. Part 1. What is Terrorism and How Can Psychology Explain It? Iviansky, Individual Terror: Concept and Typology. Reich, Understanding Terrorist Behavior: The Limits and Opportunities of Psychological Inquiry. Kruglanski, Fishman, The Psychology of Terrorism: “Syndrome” versus “Tool” Perspectives. Victoroff, The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches. Part 2. Why Would One Want to Become a Terrorist? Terrorists’ Personality and Motivation. Silke, Cheshire-Cat Logic: The Recurring Theme of Terrorist Abnormality in Psychological Research. Post, Sprinzak, Denny, The Terrorists in Their Own Words: Interviews with 35 Incarcerated Middle Eastern Terrorists. Moghadam, Palestinian Suicide Terrorism in the Second Intifada: Motivations and Organizational Aspects. Atran, Genesis of Suicide Terrorism. Pape, The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pedahzur, Perliger, Weinberg, Altruism and Fatalism: The Characteristics of Palestinian Suicide Terrorists. Part 3. Why Would One Want to Become a Terrorist? Possible Economic or Political Origins of Terrorism. Krueger, Maleckova, Does Poverty Cause Terrorism? Li, Does Democracy Promote or Reduce Transnational Terrorist Incidents? Reinares, Who Are the Terrorists? Analyzing Changes in Sociological Profile among Members of ETA. Part 4. Why Would Terrorists Enjoy Wide Popular Support? Levin, Henry, Pratto, Sidanius, Social Dominance and Social Identity in Lebanon: Implications for Support of Violence Against the West. Sidanius, Henry, Pratto, Levin, Arab Attributions for the Attack on America: The Case of Lebanese Subelites. Pyszczynski, Abdollahi, Solomon, Greenberg, Cohen, Weise, Mortality Salience, Martyrdom, and Military Might: The Great Satan Versus the Axis of Evil. Part 5. How Does One Become a Terrorist? Social and Psychological Factors in Terrorism. della Porta, Recruitment Processes in Clandestine Political Organizations: Italian Left-Wing Terrorism. Sprinzak, The Psychopolitical Formation of Extreme Left Terrorism in a Democracy: The Case of the Weathermen. McCauley, Segal, Social Psychology of Terrorist Groups. Merari, Friedland, Social Psychological Aspects of Political Terrorism. Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks. Part 6. Is Terrorism Rational? A Logical Perspective. Crenshaw, The Logic of Terrorism: Terrorist Behavior as a Product of Strategic Choice. Sandler, Tschirhart, Cauley, A Theoretical Analysis of Transnational Terrorism. Part 7. Is Terrorism Evil? Wardlaw, Justifications and Means: The Moral Dimension of State-Sponsored Terrorism. Juergensmeyer, Islam’s “Neglected Duty”. Part 8. How Can Terrorism Be Overcome? Atran, Soft Power and the Psychology of Suicide Bombing. Hafez, Hatfield, Do Targeted Assassinations Work? A Multivariate Analysis of Israel’s Controversial Tactic During Al-Aqsa Uprising. Kaplan, Mintz, Mishal, Samban, What Happened to Suicide Bombings in Israel? Insights from a Terror Stock Model.

About the Editors

Jeff Victoroff began his career in academic medicine. After training in Neurology and Psychiatry at Harvard and a fellowship in Neurobehavior at UCLA, he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. His initial research focused on neurodegeneration and on the reasons for aggression seen in patients with neurological disorders. After 9/11 he made a dramatic change in his research career to study the deep causes of human aggression, including both individual and collective violence, from a transdisciplinary perspective.

Arie W. Kruglanski is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and one of the most cited researchers in Social Psychology. His interests have centered on the psychology of judgment and knowledge formation, as well as on the processes of group decision making, goal formation and implementation. He has served as Editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Among other distinctions, he has received the Donald T. Campbell Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution to Social Psychology, the Humboldt Foundation Life Achievement Award (Forschungpreis), and the NIMH Research Scientist Award Ko5. His publications include over 180 scientific literature articles, chapters, and books on social personality psychology.

He is Editor of two Psychology Press series: Key Readings in Social Psychology and Principles of Social Psychology; and a co-editor of a series of upper-level texts called Frontiers of Social Psychology.

About the Series

Key Readings in Social Psychology

Given the need to be selective and to provide a coherent perspective on each theme within a single book, the editors have generally tackled a difficult brief extremely well. The breadth and depth make a volume suitable for use in many final-year and masters-degree courses in social psychology. It also provides an ideal introduction to top-level original research articles that should motivate students to pursue the current literature in a more targeted way. […] This is an excellent series that will provide an invaluable compendium of the themes that have dominated the 20th Century.” - Diane Houston, University of Kent, in the Times Higher Education Supplement

The aim of the series is to make available to senior undergraduate and graduate students key articles in each area of social psychology in an attractive, user-friendly format.

Many professors want to encourage their students to engage directly with research in their fields, yet this can often be daunting for students coming to detailed study of a topic for the first time.

Moreover, declining library budgets mean that articles are not always readily available, and course packs can be expensive and time-consuming to produce.

Key Readings in Social Psychology aims to address this need by providing comprehensive volumes, each one of which is edited by a senior and active researcher in the field.

Articles are carefully chosen to illustrate the way the field has developed historically as well as current issues and research directions.

Each volume has a similar structure that includes:

  • An overview chapter, as well as introduction to sections and articles;
  • Questions for class discussion;
  • Annotated bibliographies;
  • Full author and subject indices;
  • The article How to Read a Journal Article in Social Psychology, especially prepared for this series by Christian H. Jordan and Mark P. Zanna

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Terrorism
PSYCHOLOGY / Social Psychology