Arie Kruglanski, University of Maryland – The Psychology of Radicalization

What unmet needs lead to radicalization?

Arie Kruglanski, professor of in the department of psychology at the University of Maryland, explores these needs and why they are met by radical groups.

Arie W. Kruglanski is a Distinguished University Professor, a recipient of numerous awards, and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society. He has served as editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, editor of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and associate editor of the American Psychologist. His work in the domains of human judgment and belief formation, the motivation-cognition interface, group and intergroup processes, and the psychology of human goals has been disseminated in over 300 articles, chapters, and books, and has been continuously supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, NIMH, Deutsche Forschungs Gemeineschaft, the Ford Foundation and the Israeli Academy of Science. As a founding Co-PI and Co-Director of START (National Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism), Kruglanski also conducts research with the support of grants from the Department for Homeland Security and from the Department of Defense on the psychological processes behind radicalization, deradicalization, and terrorism.

The Psychology of Radicalization


In recent years our research team has been investigating the issues of radicalization and violent extremism. The main questions we have aimed to address were – Why do people become extremists, and how do they?  Our empirical work addressed samples from many of the world regions where extremism poses an acute threat. Our work has uncovered the ingredients of the universal process that governs radicalization and that holds true across vast geographic and cultural differences in the samples we studied. That process includes three major components, the three Ns of radicalization. The first N is the individuals’ need; this is the motivation that propels them in the direction of extremism. That need is the quest for personal significance, the overpowering desire to matter to have respect in one’s own eyes and those of others. The second N is the ideological narrative that identifies the road to significance; in the case of violent extremism that road, promised to bring individuals significance and glory, is violence against an enemy said to perpetrate crimes against one’s group (ethnicity, religion, nationality). The third N is the social network that validates the ideological narrative and rewards individuals (by status and esteem) for implementing the ideological injunctions.  We found the three Ns to be present in most cases of violent extremism: individuals’ personal demons that lower their sense of significance prompt them to latch onto an ideological narrative supported by a network of respected friends and associates, and under the appropriate circumstances trigger the decision to undertake violent action on behalf of the ideological cause.