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Terrorism: Easing the Stress

Before it explodes - Would international travel or internet sites and documentary films about foreign places help stop jihadist attacks? Could student foreign exchanges help as well? All these things could help end terrorism if they cause terrorists to be less identified with their own ethnic group.

New research shows that people with extremely strong ties to their countries or groups are not only willing, but eager, to sacrifice themselves to save their compatriots. the majority of what psychologists call "fused" people, those who view themselves as completely immersed in a group (be it ethnic, national or other), are willing to commit extreme acts for what they consider to be the "good" of their compatriots.

Psychologist Bill Swann says, "Fused group members believe that through suicide, their lives will achieve tremendous significance. Their strong sense of moral agency drives them to see not only that justice is done, but to also take an active role in its implementation."

His study was done among students in Spain, but the results could be applied to suicide bombers in the Middle East. The study revealed that an overwhelming majority of fused respondents are willing to take extreme, bold steps to save the lives of their group members. 75% were willing to jump to their deaths to save the lives of five group members, compared to 25% of participants who were not fused (so strongly identified) with their country.

88% said they would die to save five members of an extended in-group (Europe), but not members of an out-group (America). The researchers used Europe as an example of an extended in-group (outsiders with close cultural or moral affiliations) because of its common social, political and economic ties to Spain. They used America as an example of an out-group because it is far removed from Spain.

When given the option to push aside a fellow group member who is about to sacrifice himself to kill some escaped terrorists, 63% said they would push the group member aside so they, themselves, could leap to their deaths to divert a train that would then kill the terrorists.

Swann thinks the study may offer new insights into the mindsets of groups with extremist ideology. He says, "In an era in which the act of sacrificing one's own life for the group has had world-altering consequences, it is critical to learn more about the psychological underpinnings of such activity."

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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