Terrorism, like many other horrific types of violence, has begged in the minds of many for a psychological explanation. The research and systematic analysis that has been done on the topic, however, show that neither mental illness nor a simple “lack of conscience” are significant primary causes of terrorism. There is no known “terrorist personality.” The pathways and influences that lead certain individuals to become terrorists are quite diverse. Psychological research and systematic analysis, however, can help illuminate the processes by which people and groups come to adopt extremist ideologies and subsequently use those ideas to justify violent actions.

Since the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, leaders in the U.S. intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement communities have concurred that terrorism currently poses ...

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