This week’s discussion focus is “Group Psychology”. The study of group psychology is
literally what its name suggests, the study of how groups intentionally or unintentionally
influence individuals who are in the presence or members of groups. We can’t leave a
course on the psychology of terrorism without examining this important area of research,
because historically nothing has proven as powerful in shaping human behavior. We are
group beings. We live, work and play with and among others. Although professional ethics
won’t allow researchers to attempt to discern the influences that groups exert on human
behavior by experimentally isolating individuals from the moment of birth and across their
lifetimes, a number of landmark research efforts have given us insight into the reactions of
individuals in group settings.
Before participating in this week’s discussion, you must access the following:
This site contains a video interview of Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, a social psychologist world-
renown for his groundbreaking study of group impact, the Stanford Prison Study. NOTE:
This video was taped in the 1990s in Zimbardo’s home. What he has to say is as relevant
today as it was then but the sound quality isn’t the best. When I watch this video I have to
turn my laptop volume up to the highest level. Also, you may notice that Dr. Z appears to
be bragging at the beginning of the video about his professional accomplishments, but what
you can’t hear is that prior to the start of the tape Dr. Z was asked to summarize his
professional activities during 50 years as a professor and research scientist at Stanford
University. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to fast-forward through the first few minutes,
but I suppose after five decades as one of the foremost contributors to our understanding of
social psychology and group dynamics he is due his few minutes of fame.
This is a description, written by Yale University psychologist, Stanley Milgram (1974), of
his 1951 landmark study of the behavioral choices people make while being told what to do
by others in positions of authority.
As you access the above two web sources, keep in mind that there was nothing unique or
even unusual about the individuals who volunteered to participate in these studies; in fact,
the volunteers did not know before signing up to participate what the research involved.
The Stanford Prison Study volunteers believed they couldn’t leave until the study was
complete; the Milgram Obedience Study volunteers were not told they had to stay.
This is a CBS 60 Minutes video about the Supermax prison in Colorado where all of the
convicted terrorists in the U.S. are housed. Once the weblink opens, select the second video
from the left, titled “A Clean Version of Hell” (I’m sure the “Blackwater” video may also
draw your attention-also an interesting segment, but not applicable to this topic). If you
can’t access this address, try
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Once you have viewed these three web links, submit a post by Wednesday that pulls
together at least two common threads found across all three and use them to articulate
your understanding of possible origins of terrorists’ actions. NOTE: The sources aren’t
intended to explain all terrorist motivations or choices. They illuminate, as have all our
other readings to date, some elements of the psychology of terrorism. You job here is to
tease from them common themes that inform our understanding of it.
Various psychologists have sought to explain through research on how group psychology
functions and how it affects behaviors of groups. A group has an influence on the way people
live and act. This paper focuses on how groups contribute to the origins of terrorists based on
various readings and discussions on the psychology of groups.
Groups impose unwritten norms, exaggerate, warp people’s decisions and draw their
psychological identity and strength. The group also provides people a sense of belonging and
support in times of need. Terrorist groups therefore originate from this phenomenon. People then
make decisions to join such groups because of the above reasons. The bandwagon effect
influences most of the people. They want to be like their colleagues and this leads them to
joining such groups without thinking of the consequences. They also want to feel a sense of
belonging. If they get the feeling that they will be accepted the thought will compel them to join.
Psychological identity is yet another important factor that motivates individuals to join
these terror groups. Some people believe that joining such movements provides them social and
psychological rewards such as adventure and heightened sense of identity.
There is also a sense of security in being in a group. Many of the terror organizations
operate as a group. They have many members who coordinate and work together to accomplish
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their terror activities. When terrorists are in a group, they feel this sense of security and therefore
they can engage in different activities because they have other people who they support on and
can count on in case of a problem. This therefore motivates them and makes them to have the
energy and vigor to engage in their criminal activities.
The effects on individual members are the reasons that group have strength and influence.
People’s mind and psychology is easily transformed through the influences of groups. The
actions of terrorist groups are a clear indication of the importance that the group is associated
with. It provides a sense of security belonging and provide members with psychological identity.
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DeAngelis, T. (2009). American Psychology Association: Understanding terrorism.