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Extinguishing Threat

Dutton, Kevin, Abrams, Dominic (2016) Extinguishing Threat. Scientific American Mind, 27 . pp. 44-49. ISSN 1555-2284. (doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0516-44) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:61911)

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Terrorism is as old as history and almost certainly older. In 68 b.c., for instance, the Roman city of Ostia, a vital port for one of the world’s earliest superpowers, was set on fire by a band of thugs. They destroyed the consular war fleet and, rather embarrassingly, kidnapped two leading senators. Panic ensued—the same panic that has now been recapitulated down the centuries, courtesy of such terror groups as the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the African National Congress, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, al Qaeda and, most recently, ISIS. At the time of writing this article, the world had witnessed three major terrorist attacks within a period of 20 days—Beirut, Paris, San Bernardino—which were quickly followed by additional atrocities in Istanbul, Kabul, Dikwa, Nigeria, and elsewhere, each committed by Islamic extremists. And just as 19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen described the culprits at Ostia as “the ruined men of all nations” forming “a piratical state with a peculiar esprit de corps,” political leaders today typically resort to describing terrorists as insane, deranged or purely evil. So what have psychologists had to say about the problem? Quite a lot. But their cool-headed observations seem to have been drowned out by the all-too-familiar chorus of senators, celebrities and others waging their own rhetorical jihad against Islam. As we continue to grapple with the challenge of violent extremism, perhaps we should all take a brain check. Instead of lip-synching to the shrill braying of polemical pundits and belligerent blowhards, maybe we should tune in to the quieter, more discerning notes emanating from some of our laboratories. Or rather maybe our policy makers should.Granted, science and politics have often made uncomfortable bedfellows. History attests to a regrettable roll call of impromptu trysts between the two spawning inhumane ideologies. Consider the brutal abduction of mainstream evolutionary theory by genocidal Aryan supremacists and its grotesque rebranding—through the medium of social Darwinism—as Nazi doctrine. In the face of a rising tide of violent extremism, though, it would seem remiss if we scientists simply sat back and did nothing. So in this article, we step up to the challenge of placing social psychology center stage in the war on terror. We will not pretend it was easy: over the years the field has generated a considerable body of empirically laundered wisdom. But after lively discussions with an international group of experts, we have homed in on seven exemplary studies across an eclectic array of research areas—from social cognition to conflict resolution. We believe each has direct implications not just for policy decisions but for all of us as individuals in a fast-changing world.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1038/scientificamericanmind0516-44
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Emily Fell
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2017 10:51 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 12:22 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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