What is more important in determining terrorists' motives: the psychology of the individual or the sociological impact of the group?
Could you explain and use examples?
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Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government published a new study in 2008 that discredited the then current idea that terrorists are rational people who weigh the effectiveness of alternative modes of protest or persuasion and choose terrorism because the other options are undervalued in light of costs and goal effectiveness. It is this paradigm model placing individual psychology (cognition + affect) in the forefront of motive analysis that led to the policy of "no concessions."
The Harvard study points out that this paradigm and its policy conclusions had never previously been studied. Harvard is now positing that the motive for terrorists is strongly tied in with sociological factors such that terrorists use terrorism to advance ties among terrorists. This new paradigm states that terrorists are rational people motivated by sociological factors that enhance, strengthen, perhaps even broaden terrorist group ties.
I agree with other editors that the prime factor to consider in your question would be the psychological motivation of the individual. When you think about it, the membership of your "average" terrorist group is something that is defined more by the mentality of the individuals in that group rather than their social background. Terrorist groups manage to attract both the rich and the poor; what is in common is a shared commitment to a cause or an ideology.
I agree that both factors play a part in this discussion. The psychology of the individual can be very impactful—especially in that terrorists are generally so irrationally committed to their purpose that they cannot be reasoned with, nor would they want to be. The sociological tenor of the group will impact each individual terrorist. This is a family they belong to: a union based on faith and political ideologies. What I would find interesting is the psychology of the group. Socially the "family" becomes the focus and the support for the individual terrorist, but I wonder too about the psychology of the unit as well. It amazes me that a group can come together, perhaps those who know each other or not at all, but can still act as one body with one mind. These elements make one wonder about what psychological/sociological "cocktail" is served to so strongly join the members of these groups to the point that they will all give their lives without question.
I agree that both factors are important and are actually almost impossible to untangle. If I had to choose one, I would focus on the individual. A weak individual, or alternatively an individual with a strong sense of commitment to a cause, is far more likely to be influenced by social pressures.
The most obvious answer is that both factors are important. If I had to choose one of them, I would say social pressures. We are more influenced by our society that we can imagine. Sociologists of knowledge have worked on this area for a long time. Read some Peter Berger. The categories of our thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and the like are shaped by the society in which we live. So, if there is a radical religious culture, then they will influence people.
It really depends on the group, but one thing we have seen time and time again is that terrorist groups have charismatic leaders who are highly persuasive and manage to convince people of their causes even if those people would not otherwise be interested. Followers are weaker, and drawn in by the leader.
Both factors surely play a role. However, I'd agree that the psychology of the individual is more important, just as it is for determining which people would play a part in a more "legitimate" protest movement. Not everyone from the same sociological group becomes a terrorist. You have terrorists from rich Saudi families and poor families from Pakistan and even from the United States. It must be largely an individualistic thing.
I will start the discussion by taking the position that the group's influence plays the larger role in drawing individuals into terrorist activities. It appears to me that peer pressure, fear of retribution, and history as passed down and presented to support a particular interpretation all operate as functions of groups within society. The motives of terrorists seem to be based in the human need to take action in response to situations that seem beyond control or outside the sphere of concerns that may be addressed through peaceful courses of action.
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