Terrorism Psychology: Theory & Application

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  • Terrorism Psychology: Theory & Application

    Alex W. Stedmon & Glyn Lawson

    # Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

    Since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and theemergence of Al Qaida as a global terrorist threat, thetheory and application of terrorism psychology has becomea major interdisciplinary research area. With the intensifica-tion of home-grown terrorism at a time of resurgent levels ofanti-Western rhetoric and global violence, security policy isfocused upon maximizing efficiency in counter terrorismpractices at local, national and international levels. Recentterrorist campaigns have shown that acts of terrorism havemoved towards indiscriminate, mass impact activities thatare often combined with targeted secondary attacks to max-imize impact, attract worldwide media coverage, underminepublic life, and generate fear.

    For successful counter-terrorism initiatives must integratefundamental research with applied methods and approachesgrounded in the practical issues faced by security personnelin the field. More specifically, research agendas are focusedon: the psychology of terrorism by investigating contribut-ing and causal factors of terrorism and the motivations andbehaviours of those engaged in hostile intent; a broaderview of the social factors and systems perspective of terror-ism to improve emergency planning and response; andpractical and useful techniques to be implemented in sur-veillance technologies and counter-terrorism policies.

    This special issue was motivated through involvement ina strategic security consortium Shades of Grey funded bythe Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council(EPSRC) (EP/H02302X/1) from 2010 to 2013. Shades ofGrey emerged in response to the requirement for novelsurveillance interventions that elicit robust, reliable andusable indicators of notable behaviours in crowded publicareas. A further aim is that counter-terrorism interventionsshould not frustrate, degrade, or restrict the general userexperience of public spaces.

    Given the remit of the Journal of Police and CriminalPsychology this special issue focuses on a very specific aspectof criminal behaviour (e.g., terrorism) and the application ofpsychology and related disciplines to effective correctionalpractices (e.g., counter-terrorism policies and practises).However, in doing so the overriding principle is that terrorismshares attributes with many lower and more common forms ofcrime (e.g., pick-pockets, petty theft, burglary). Just as pettycriminals will survey a public space for security measures andvulnerable targets, terrorists conduct hostile reconnaissance inthe planning of an attack in a public space.

    The guest editors invited authors representing a number ofdisciplines including psychology, criminology, sociology, po-litical science, ergonomics/human factors, art and media, en-gineering and computer science to contribute knowledge tothis area of criminal psychology. Although the papers focus oncounter-terrorism, they interpret and translate the problem indifferent ways ranging from social theory, applied and socialpsychology, interaction design, and user-centred approaches.The articles comprising this special issue explore the spectrumof terrorism psychology across a number of highly originalthemes such as: conceptualising terrorism; deception and in-terrogation; social, cultural and contextual factors in terrorism;and user-centred approaches for counter-terrorism. Theauthors of the collection of papers illustrate and discussaspects of terrorist activities, hostile intent, and suspiciousbehaviour to inform counter-terrorism initiatives.

    A. W. Stedmon (*)Cultural, Communications and Computing Research Institute,Sheffield Hallam University,Sheffield S1 2NU, UKe-mail: alex.stedmon@nottingham.ac.uk

    A. W. Stedmone-mail: c3ri@shu.ac.uk

    G. LawsonHuman Factors Research Group,Faculty of Engineering University of Nottingham,Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

    J Police Crim PsychDOI 10.1007/s11896-012-9108-4

  • The first two papers draw together aspects of conceptu-alising terrorism, hostile intent, and strategies for counter-terrorism. Braithwaite draws upon empirical findings ofpublic opinion surveys and polls in the UK and US between2001 and 2010 to illustrate the logic of public fear inrelation to political terrorism. In particular, he exploreshow academic literature has characterized psychologicalviolence and advocates counter-terrorism policies that rec-ognize the importance of fear. The paper concludes with thesuggestion that the most efficient form of counterterrorismpolicy is one that mitigates levels of public fear. Fusseydraws on cross-disciplinary resources in the analysis ofpre-attack terrorist activities. He reviews key themes ofterrorism including empirical values, the duplication ofknowledge, points of consensus, and the focus on individualand deterministic features. He explores the notion of terror-ism as a process (something which is revisited in the finalpaper of this special issue) and considers current analysesand temporal features of attack cycles. These discussions areorganised in a number of overarching arguments, includingthe importance of inter-relationships between counter-terrorism practice and precise understandings of terroristaction; and the need to exercise caution over deterministicpathways of action and accounts that focus too heavily onthe individual level of action.

    The focus then moves into the area of deception andinterrogation in areas where there is little previous publishedresearch in relation to terrorism psychology. Vrij, Mann andLeal present present their work against the backdrop ofphysiological and neurological lie detection methods thatare often discussed in the media, as well as the theoreticalunderpinnings of nonverbal and verbal cues to deceit, andthe research methods typically used in nonverbal and verballie detection research. They argue that these traditional cuesof deception have limited success because the nonverbal andverbal cues that liars display spontaneously are faint andunreliable. In recent years, the emphasis has changed radi-cally and the current focus is on developing interview tech-niques that elicit and enhance cues to deception. Their paperprovides an overview of this innovative research and con-siders its value in fighting terrorism by paying particularattention to settings that are neglected so far but relevant forterrorism, such as (i) lying about intentions, (ii) examiningpeople when they are observed secretly and (iii) interview-ing suspects together. With a unique study investigatingsuspect interrogation scenarios in which individuals wereengaged in deceptive activities, Stedmon et al. present evi-dence that stressed individuals secrete a volatile steroid-based marker that could form the basis for remote detection.In this way, a human pheromone linked to deception mayexist and the findings provide a validated model of scalableinterrogation that can be used by other researchers to testinterventions aimed at detecting or deterring hostile intent.

    Taking social, cultural and contextual factors of terrorisminto consideration, Bradford and Wilson consider terroristattacks within educational institutions. Whilst such attacksinclude bombings, hostage takings, chemical attacks, andarson, specific attention is focused on armed assaults as thesehave shown a sharp increase in frequency over the lastdecade. This paper presents a comprehensive chronologyof armed assaults on educational institutions since 1980and presents detailed content analyses based on underlyingattack descriptors. A key finding is that over time, armedterrorist attacks on educational institutions have increased inlethality but also they have changed in terms of the maintargets of such attacks. The data were also analysed toexplore interrelationships between behaviours and identifythe underlying dimensions in terrorist attacks. The resultsindicate that attacks can be classified on an expressive-instrumental continuum. Manual violence (such as knivescommonly used in expressive forms of homicide) are fea-tures of more expressive behaviours whilst planning andorganisation are features that are typical of instrumentalcrime types (such as bombings, successful hostage-takings,and considered ransom requests). A key finding from theresearch is that a trend in expressive crime appears to beemerging in terrorism also.

    With a different perspective on social and contextual fac-tors, Martin, Dalton and Nikolopoulou review a range oftechniques for disrupting the routine use of public spaces.Whereas unexpected questioning can elicit observable cuesto deception, this paper considers physical alternatives drawnfrom the fields of advertising, art, architecture, and entertain-ment. A number of temporary interventions that alter socialbehaviour are discussed that may foster calm and positive userexperiences at times of heightened security in crowded publicspaces. The final paper in this theme takes an experimentalapproach to investigate the context of deception. Zhang et al.revisit the area of nonverbal cues to deception and offer aninvestigation that seeks to develop a protocol to interrogatebehavioural data that may help explain the unreliability ofprevious research findings. They present a coding protocolfor identifying cues to deception and report on three studies inwhich the protocol was used to explore deception in differentcontexts. Two of the studies examined the impact of changingthe risks associated with lying (by increasing the stakesthrough manipulating immediate evaluation of liars), whilstthe third investigated increased cognitive demand of duplexdeception tasks including reconnaissance and deception.Across all three studies, cues to deception were analysed inrelation to visible body movements and subjective responsesfrom participants. The findings demonstrate and contribute toboth theory and practice by expanding the existing evidencebase with regard to deception-related behaviours in threedifferent situations. This work is also an important step to-wards identifying more clearly the difference between liars

    J Police Crim Psych

  • and truth-tellers in settings other than interview situations thatprevious work in this area (e.g. Vrij) had focused on.

    The final paper represents an emerging theme in securityresearch from a user-centred perspective whilst also return-ing to aspects presented in the initial theme (contextualizingterrorism). Saikayasit et al. consider the range of humanfactors approaches and methods to understand user require-ments in security and counter-terrorism. Using a series ofuser requirements case studies, this paper presents the meth-odology and recommendations for conducting research in aconsequential domain. Results from three agencies are high-lighted, from which common themes emerged. These

    themes (ranging from the importance of temporal measuresto enhancing positive experiences) are discussed in relationto the practical application of this approach in securityresearch.

    Together, these papers represent the forefront of theirareas of research and bring together topics from a diverserange of disciplines and world-leading groups to produce aninnovative and informative publication. The aim is not onlyto expand the knowledge base of the subject area andrelevance to terrorism psychology, but also provide a valu-able resource to security stakeholders at policy and practi-tioner levels.

    J Police Crim Psych

    Terrorism Psychology: Theory & Application


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