Violent Radicalism and the Psychology of Prepossession


  • Arie W. Kruglanski


The phenomenon of violent radicalism/extremism is portrayed as a consequence of a mechanism that fosters extremism in general. This is the process of motivational imbalance or “prepossession”, a state wherein a given need becomes dominant to the point of inhibiting other needs. In the case of violent extremism, the dominant need is the quest for significance, the desire to matter and have self and others’ respect. Whereas the “hydraulic” domination-inhibition process that underlies extremism can be observed across levels of phylogeny, the motivational imbalance in those cases is typically brief in duration. In the case of humans, however, participation in violent extremism can be long lasting, due to its facilitation by a compelling narrative” that ties violence to the attainment of significance, and is embraced by a “network” of trusted others (individuals’ friends and relatives) who validate the narrative and bestow significance on individuals who implement its dictates.

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