A Multilevel Social Neuroscience Perspective on Radicalization and Terrorism Social Neuroscience
Jean Decety, Robert A. Pape, Clifford I. Workman  |  November 8, 2017

Why are some people capable of sympathizing with and/or committing acts of political violence, such as attacks aimed at innocent targets? Attempts to construct terrorist profiles based on individual and situational factors, such as clinical, psychological, ethnic, and socio-demographic variables, have largely failed. Although individual and situational factors must be at work, it is clear that they alone cannot explain how certain individuals are radicalized. In this paper, we propose that a comprehensive understanding of radicalization and of how it may lead to political violence requires the integration of information across multiple levels of analysis and interdisciplinary perspectives from evolutionary theory, social, personality and cognitive psychology, political science and neuroscience. Characterization of the structural-functional relationships between neural mechanisms and the cognitive and affective psychological processes that underpin group dynamics, interpersonal processes, values and narratives, as well as micro-sociological processes may reveal latent drivers of radicalization and explain why some people turn to extreme political violence. These drivers may not be observable within a single individual level of scientific enquiry. The integrative, multilevel approach that characterizes social neuroscience has the potential to provide theoretical and empirical clarity regarding the antecedents of radicalization and support for extreme violence.