Social interaction and psychological pathways to political engagement and extremism

Emma Thomas, Craig McGarty, Winnifred Louis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Although psychology has recently witnessed a burgeoning interest in the predictors of social and political action generally, little research has considered the psychological mechanisms by which people come to choose extreme or radical forms of action. How and why do groups come to favor radical or extreme solutions (radicalization) over conventional political pathways (politicization)? Theory in both political science and psychology suggests that social interaction plays an important role, but this has never been demonstrated experimentally. Results (N=114) show that social interaction can lead to both politicized and radicalized solutions but that radicalization rests on the perception that extreme action is legitimate. The findings provide the first experimental analog of the group-based dynamics that underpin political engagement and political extremism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-22
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014

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