The Need to Refocus on the Group as the Site of Radicalization

Laura G. E. Smith, Leda Blackwood, Emma F. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


The past decade has witnessed burgeoning efforts among governments to prevent people from developing a commitment to violent extremism (conceived of as a process of radicalization). These interventions acknowledge the importance of group processes yet in practice primarily focus on the idiosyncratic personal vulnerabilities that lead people to engage in violence. This conceptualization is problematic because it disconnects the individual from the group and fails to adequately address the role of group processes in radicalization. To address this shortcoming, we propose a genuinely social psychological account of radicalization as an alternative. We draw on recent developments in theory and research in psychological science to suggest that radicalization is fundamentally a group socialization process through which people develop identification with a set of norms—that may be violent or nonviolent—through situated social interactions that leverage their shared perceptions and experiences. Our alternative provides a way of understanding shifts toward violent extremism that are caused by both the content (focal topics) and process of social interactions. This means that people’s radicalization to violence is inseparable from the social context in which their social interactions take place.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-352
Number of pages26
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • collective action
  • radicalization
  • social identity
  • social influence
  • social interaction


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