Understanding the Process of Radicalization – Review of the Empirical Literature

Comprendre le processus de radicalisation – Examen de la documentation empirique


  1. Adams, A.
  2. Brown, A.
  3. Flear, C.
  4. Thomson, M.
Corporate Authors
Defence R&D Canada - Toronto, Toronto ONT (CAN);Humansystems Inc, Guelph ONT (CAN)
Radicalization to violence is a clear and present threat to public safety and security in Canada. Radicalization is defined by the RCMP as the process by which individuals are introduced to an overtly ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from moderate, mainstream beliefs toward extreme views. Effectively managing the threat of radicalization will require good understanding of the psychological processes that underlie radicalization. This report is the result of literature review exploring the social and cognitive processes underpinning radicalization from the perspective of experimental psychological research, and was guided by two questions: 1) What factors lead people to come to hold extreme ideologies? 2) How do they come to act on these ideologies in violent ways? Results showed that radicalization is influenced by uncertainty (both personal and existential), attitudes such as moral outrage, guilt and narcissism, as well as by social exclusion. The acceptance of religion is shown to provide protection from perceived threat and buffering of social exclusion. Finally, how people become motivated to aggress against other people is explained in the literature in terms of intergroup emotions, perceived collective support for one’s valued identity, and social rejection combined with perceived group cohesiveness. As a whole, the empirical literature relevant to radicalization prominently shows complex designs and interactive effects, and varies in ter

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Radicalization;Extremism;Terrorism;Uncertainty;Intergroup Relations
Report Number
DRDC-TORONTO-CR-2011-122 — Contractor Report
Date of publication
01 Mar 2011
Number of Pages
Electronic Document(PDF)

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