Newswise – “True believers” who exhibit extreme behavior are motivated by the degree to which their identity is fused with a cause or belief, according to a new study. The results suggest that an effective de-radicalization strategy might be to get true believers to believe in new ways of thinking rather than forcing them to give up their ideas.
A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology has brought us closer to understanding what causes true believers to exhibit extreme behavior. The results show that learning more about how and why an individual’s identity can merge with a cause can help fight radicalization.
A true believer strictly adheres to a particular belief, such as a religion or moral position. They can devote their life to a beneficial cause, such as the fight for human or animal rights. But they can also exhibit extremely negative behavior, such as committing terrorist acts.
Previous research has identified three concepts that may explain extreme behavior: sacred values, moral beliefs, and identity fusion.
“Research has shown that viewing a value as sacred and therefore not open to negotiation predicts extreme behavior for that value. For example, if your position on abortion is not negotiable, then you would be more willing to fight and die for this cause, ”said graduate student Francois Alexi Martel, University of Texas at Austin. .
“Likewise, viewing your position on an issue as a moral conviction, or something that you consider to be universally moral, predicts extreme behavior in defending that issue. Finally, if your identity is “merged with” a cause, you are more willing to fight and die for that cause. “
Would you like to fight and die for your cause?
Using these constructs, the researchers conducted six studies to see which variable, alone or in combination, is the most predictive of sacrifice for a cause. They measured the three concepts against two causes, namely gun rights and abortion rights. The measure of the result was the approval to fight and die for the cause. The studies were conducted with participants from the United States and Spain.
They found that all three concepts correlated with approval to fight and die for a cause, but not to the same degree. Sacred values were the weakest predictor, followed by moral beliefs. Identity fusion was the strongest predictor.
“The merging of your identity with a cause was a better indicator of willingness to sacrifice for that cause than the sanctity of the values associated with the cause or that the cause represented a moral conviction. This pattern emerged whether we were assessing people’s merging with their position on the cause of gun rights (pro-gun or anti-gun) or the issue of abortion (pro-life or pro-choice) ”, said Martel.
The road to deradicalization
The results suggest that people who are strongly linked to and threatened by their cause may become radicalized. The radicalization of a highly fused individual depends on the target of their beliefs. Someone who is strongly fused with certain religious beliefs is more likely to sacrifice their life for their cause than someone who is fused with a music group.
Still, the results show clues to help de-radicalize extremists. “This research could be used to develop strategies designed to identify potential terrorists, violent political extremists or other potential radicals who are about to engage in violence that could cost lives,” Martel explained.
The path to deradicalization is not easy. For individuals fused with their cause, deradicalization means giving up a part of their personal self. But the authors suggest a strategy that could be effective:
“Based on our research, we believe that the shift of radicals from merging with an extremist cause to a benevolent cause can transform them from a force of evil into a force of good. “