A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Understanding Political Radicalization: The Two-Pyramids model


Understanding Political Radicalization: The Two-Pyramids model

START researchers contribute to special issue of American Psychologist

April 10, 2017

Published in a special issue of American Psychologist, new analysis by START researchers explains how the study of radicalization has evolved and explores the security and research implications of a two-pyramid model that separates radicalization of opinion from radicalization of action.

START researchers Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko propose that radicalization to extremist opinions is a different psychological phenomenon than is radicalization to extremist action.

They describe an “opinion pyramid,” consisting of people who share accelerating levels of extremist ideas, and an “action pyramid” with levels ranging from passivity to legal activism to political violence and terrorism.

“The warrant for the two-pyramids model is the observation that 99 percent of those with radical ideas never act,” McCauley and Moskalenko said. “Conversely, many join in radical action without radical ideas.”

Programs for countering violent extremism that do not distinguish extreme ideas from extremist actions will needlessly multiply the terrorist threat, they suggest. The authors also suggest that renaming countering violent extremism (CVE) to countering extremist violence (CEV) may help move forward in separating radicalization in opinion and action.

The new special issue of American Psychologist features work from other START researchers including:

To see the full contents of the American Psychologist Special Issue on the Psychology of Terrorism, visit its website here.  

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