3 October 2018

Unfairness judgments fuel radical beliefs, extremist behaviors, and terrorism

Why is it that people radicalize? Why are people tempted to adhere to extremist thoughts and want to violently defend their worldviews? How and when do they start sympathizing with terrorist acts? A recently completed project at Utrecht University is the first to systematically review all the available scientific literature on these subjects. The review shows that the core issue that drives Muslim, right-wing, and left-wing radicalization is people's judgment that their group or their cultural norms and values are treated in fundamentally unfair ways.

These judgments of unfairness lead radicalizing individuals to react in startled ways to those people and events that diverge from their own cultural worldviews. The strong emotional reactions that are the result of this ensure that Muslim, right-wing, and left-wing radicals engage in rigid thinking. This causes them to consider their own points of view to be morally superior and to develop a disdain for law and democracy. Breaking the law in violent manners thus can serve as a way to make things right again, even when this implies that horrendous violence is needed to achieve this goal.

Explaining the Process

These insights are reported in a book entitled Why People Radicalize written by research social psychologist and law professor Kees van den Bos. This book is the first to bring together scattered scientific insight, spread across several scientific domains, to explain in a coherent way how the radicalization process develops.

This study is a great contribution to the restive debate on radicalization, deradicalization and terrorism.


The book comes with much praise by terrorism researchers from several countries, such as Dutch terrorism researcher Beatrice de Graaf, who notes that this study is a great contribution to the restive debate on radicalization, deradicalization and terrorism. University of Maryland professor Arie Kruglanski states that this is the most comprehensive to date discussion of radicalization, its psychological and realistic determinants, and its multiple facets. Yale Law professor Tom Tyler praises the thorough and wide-ranging examination of theory, empirical research and real world case studies. This yields much needed understanding of why radicalism develops and how to combat it.

The book is released on October 1, 2018. A Dutch translation will be published in 2019.