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

Support for Terrorism as a Function of Individualistic and Collectivistic Goals


Support for Terrorism as a Function of Individualistic and Collectivistic Goals

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

This project, led by START Co-PI and University of Maryland psychologist Arie Kruglanski, examines the extent to which the formation of a terrorist group involves the highlighting of collective goals over individualistic goals among members of a group. Analyses for this project involve data from two sources: START's international survey effort and a collaboration with Anne Speckhard of Georgetown University. The START international surveys include questions regarding respondents' individualistic and collectivistic goals as well as items on respondents' attitudes toward terrorism and jihad against the United States. Speckhard has conducted interviews with failed suicide bombers in Chechnya, Morocco, and Palestine, and provided the research team with access to the interview data in order to glean from this material their endorsement of collectivistic goals at the expense of individualistic ones.

Primary Findings: 

Terrorist ideologues have argued that their actions are perpetrated for the sake of the group rather than for personal reward. Indeed, scholars have noted that commitment to the organization motivates and justifies terrorist attacks. The extent to which collectivism - that is, the degree to which an individual defines his/her identity as a member of a group, rather than as a function of individual interests - predicts support for terrorism amongst the potential base of supporters is explored in the two sets of studies. Results of survey data, collected in 12 Arab countries, Indonesia, and Pakistan, show that respondents who were collectivistic were more supportive of violence against Western civilian targets than individualists.

Methodology: 

The surveys were administered to participants in Study 1 on the internet through Global Market Insite, Inc. (GMI), an international marketing company that maintains an online panel of respondents in countries around the world. A total of 1,133 Muslim participants were used in the analysis (63% of the sample). Of the Muslim participants, men made up 79% of the sample and women 21%. The age of participants ranged from 18 to 60, with a mean age of 31 years. Overall the sample was relatively educated, with 97% of the respondents having at least a high school or technical school degree and participants with university or advanced degrees making up 64% of the sample. The majority of the total sample (58%) reported attending religious services at least once a week. Most respondents reported rarely coming into contact with foreigners from North America or Europe (61% reported coming into contact with foreigners less than once a month). In Study 2, a total of 3,139 Muslim participants were used in the analysis (91.8% of the sample). Of the Muslim participants, men made up 50.3% of the sample and women 49.7%. The age of participants ranged from 18 to 80, with a mean age of 36 years. The surveys in Study 2 were administered to participants during face to face interactions in the participants' homes by the following survey companies: Emac Training and Research Center in Cairo, Egypt, A.C. Neilsen in Karachi, Pakistan, and Synovate in Jakarta, Indonesia. Improving on the methods from Study 1, representative samples from each country (including individuals over 18 years of age) were obtained. In this sample, only 38.3% of the respondents reported receiving at least a high school or technical school degree and participants with university or advanced degrees making up 6% of the sample. Most respondents reported rarely coming into contact with foreigners from North American or Europe (81% reported coming into contact with foreigners less than once a month).

Timeframe

Project Period: 
June 2005 to January 2009