Psychology of Terrorism: Cultural Influences


Terrorism, as defined by Prof. McCauley, is the use or threat of applying violence by small groups against non-combatants of large groups for avowed political or religious goals (DeAngelis, 2009). To better understand terrorism, one needs to understand the psychology behind it. The paper attempts to look at the role of culture in making individuals take part in terrorist activities, and why this topic is essential in studying the psychology of terrorism.

Culture and Terrorism

The study of different peoples’ culture is important while explaining the role it plays in shaping personalities to become terrorists. It will help psychologists to find ways of better understanding the terrorists’ actions. According to the Terror Management Theory, the persons engaging in terrorism use culture to protect themselves from the fear of death that lies on the fringes of awareness (DeAngelis, 2009). Such a fear provokes the desire to lead meaningful and significant lives. The influence of culture on terrorism is so powerful that these people cling to their cultural identities and work hard to live up to their cultural values. These people would protect and defend their values at any cost, even if it means killing millions of people during the process.


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Using the Islamic culture as an example, Muslims are known to subscribe to a collective mentality. Such joint causes have been known to be the hallmark of people willing to undergo personal sacrifices (DeAngelis, 2009). The group mentality offers a sense of security and meaning that the individualistic one lacks. It, therefore, fuels the terrorist actions as such people fear the threat of cultural annihilation. Globalization has also brought different and divergent cultures into contact with each other. It has resulted in a situation of the cultural version of survival for the fittest. People, who feel that the opposing culture is out to dominate or change their culture beliefs, react quickly by engaging in terrorist activities to get rid of the threats. For example, the fundamentalists Muslims believe that their way of life is about to become extinct and thus engage in terrorism.

The study of culture as part of the psychology of terrorism also offers psychologists a chance to find ways to combat such cultural beliefs when trying to treat these people. When people embrace a shared human problem, their cultural attitude changes. For example, the representatives of two warring nations end up thinking about important issues such as global warming or peaceful activities.


Terrorism has become a worldwide phenomenon that countries can no longer afford to neglect. It is, therefore, important to find ways of dealing with its elimination. Psychology is known to be essential in explaining why the terrorists act the way they do. Culture is a core aspect that should be studied to explain how people use their way of life as a reason to engage in terrorism.

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