Though I am interested in virtually every aspect of terrorism, the main focus of my research is on the psychology of terrorist behavior. I am interested in how people become involved, remain involved, and disengage from terrorist movements. I study these issues across a wide variety of different ...
Though I am interested in virtually every aspect of terrorism, the main focus of my research is on the psychology of terrorist behavior. I am interested in how people become involved, remain involved, and disengage from terrorist movements. I study these issues across a wide variety of different non-state groups, and I examine these processes from the perspective of the individual militant as well as how the terrorist group and organization manages the processes of recruitment, selection, and disengagement. I am a psychologist by training, and I believe psychology has enormous potential for the study of terrorism. Much of my thinking about terrorist behavior (from the group and organizational perspectives) comes from organizational psychology and social psychology. But rather than solely relying on any one particular theory of terrorism or being bound by any one particular discipline, I’ve read widely literatures from other disciplines, including criminology and sociology.
My research interests travel two distinct but related pathways. I have always been interested in theoretical, conceptual, and methodological issues in the study of terrorism. But in recent years, I have come to realize the immense practical benefit that academic research can have in informing policy development and even operational counterterrorism. I believe it to be an important principle for the social and behavioral sciences to be more applied in this sense, but never at the expense of the rigor we hold dear in our research. I believe researchers can and should be policy-relevant, but non-partisan.
A strong theme that runs through my research is the need for us to rely on evidence from data. Much of what is said about terrorism continues to be opinion-driven, but social science I believe has enormous potential in this area of study. I have long encouraged the development of first hand-research, having realized the benefits of conducting rigorous, ethically sound and safe, first-hand research with those who have disengaged from terrorist movements.
Right now, I am conducting further research on how people disengage from terrorist groups. I am also working on a project that seeks to understand the development of so-called “lone wolf” terrorists. I am also looking deeper into some of the psychological mechanisms that help understand how those involved in terrorist groups transfer guilt and manage “double” lives.