Sociology Index

Physiological approach to terrorism

Books on Sociology of Terrorism, Terrorist Groups, Sociology of Terrorism

The physiological approach to terrorism suggests the role of the media in promoting the spread of terrorism. Due to media coverage, the methods, demands, and goals of terrorists are quickly made known to potential terrorists, who may be inspired to imitate them upon becoming stimulated by media accounts of terrorist acts.

David G. Hubbard (1983) takes a physiological approach to analyzing the causes of terrorism. He discusses three substances produced in the body under stress: norepinephrine, a compound produced by the adrenal gland and sympathetic nerve endings and associated with the "fight or flight" physiological response of individuals in stressful situations; acetylcholine, which is produced by the parasympathetic nerve endings and acts to dampen the accelerated norepinephrine response; and endorphins, which develop in the brain as a response to stress and "narcotize" the brain, being 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Kent Layne Oots and Thomas C. Wiegele (1985) have also proposed a model of terrorist contagion based on physiology. Their model demonstrates that the psychological state of the potential terrorist has important implications for the stability of society. In their analysis, because potential terrorists become aroused in a violence-accepting way by media presentations of terrorism, "Terrorists must, by the nature of their actions, have an attitude which allows violence."

According to Oots and Wiegele, an individual moves from being a potential terrorist to being an actual terrorist through a process that is psychological, physiological, and political. "If the neurophysiological model of aggression is realistic," Oots and Wiegele assert, "there is no basis for the argument that terrorism could be eliminated if its sociopolitical causes were eliminated."