Sociology Index

What Motivates Terrorists? What Motivates Terrorism?

Sociology of Terrorism

Who becomes a terrorist? and what kind of individuals join terrorist groups and commit public acts of shocking violence? is a common question asked often. So, What Motivates Terrorists? Psychological analyses of terrorists and terrorism, according to psychologist Maxwell Taylor, have attempted to address what motivates terrorists or to describe personal characteristics of terrorists, on the assumption that terrorists can be identified by these attributes. An understanding of the terrorist mindset could be the key to understanding how and why an individual becomes a terrorist, but psychologists have been unable to adequately define it.

"Terrorist mindset" was the topic discussed at a Rand conference on terrorism coordinated by Brian M. Jenkins in September 1980. The observations made about terrorist mindsets at that conference considered individuals, groups, and individuals as part of a group. The discussion revealed how little was known about the nature of terrorist mindsets, their causes and consequences, and their significance for recruitment, ideology, leader-follower relations, organization, decision making about targets and tactics, escalation of violence, and attempts made by disillusioned terrorists to exit from the terrorist group.

Although the current study has examined these aspects of the terrorist mindset, it has done so within the framework of a more general tasking requirement. More research and analysis would be needed to focus more closely on the concept of the terrorist mindset and to develop it into a more useful method for profiling terrorist groups and leaders.

The personality dynamics of individual terrorists, including the causes and motivations behind the decision to join Terrorist Groups and to commit violent acts needs attention. Of particular interest to researchers are the terrorists' decision-making patterns, problems of leadership and authority, target selection, and group mindset as a pressure tool on the individual.

There is a lack of data and ambivalence among many academic researchers about the academic value of terrorism research contributing to the relatively little systematic social and psychological research on terrorism.