The Neurocognitive Process of Digital Radicalization: A Theoretical Model and Analytical Framework
Keywords:Online Radicalization, Digital Terrorism, Strategic Narratives, Propaganda, Messaging
Recent studies suggest that empathy induced by narrative messages can effectively facilitate persuasion and reduce psychological reactance. Although limited, emerging research on the etiology of radical political behavior has begun to explore the role of narratives in shaping an individual’s beliefs, attitudes, and intentions that culminate in radicalization. The existing studies focus exclusively on the influence of narrative persuasion on an individual, but they overlook the necessity of empathy and that in the absence of empathy, persuasion is not salient. We argue that terrorist organizations are strategic in cultivating empathetic-persuasive messages using audiovisual materials, and disseminating their message within the digital medium. Therefore, in this paper we propose a theoretical model and analytical framework capable of helping us better understand the neurocognitive process of digital radicalization.
Abbasi, Ahmed, and Hsinchun Chen. (2008). "Analysis of Affect Intensities in Extremist Group Forums." Terrorism Informatics. Springer US. 285-307.
Abrahms, Max, and Matthew Gottfried. (2016). "Does Terrorism Pay? An Empirical Analysis." Terrorism and Political Violence, 28(1): 72-89.
Allendorfer, William, and Susan Herring. (2015). “ISIS vs. the US government: A war of online video propaganda.” First Monday, 20(12).
Amble, John Curtis. (2012). "Combating Terrorism in the New Media Environment." Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 35(5): 339-353.
Antilla, Liisa. (2010). "Self-censorship and Science: A Geographical Review of Media Coverage of Climate Tipping Points." Public Understanding of Science, 19(2): 240-256.
Atran, Scott. (2017). “The Role of the Devoted Actor in War, Revolution and Terrorism”. In J. R. Lewis (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Religion and Terrorism (pp. 69-88). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Baele, Stephanie. (2017). “Lone-Actor Terrorists’ Emotions and Cognition: An Evaluation Beyond Stereotypes”. Political Psychology, 38(3), 449-468.
Bagozzi, Richard, and David Moore. (1994). "Public Service Advertisements: Emotions and Empathy Guide Prosocial Behavior." The Journal of Marketing. 56-70.
Bartels, Andreas, and Semir Zeki. (2004). "Functional Brain Mapping During Free Viewing of Natural Scenes." Human Brain Mapping, 21(2): 75-85.
Becker, Julia, Nicole Tausch, and Ulrich Wagner. (2011). "Emotional Consequences of Collective Action Participation: Differentiating Self-directed and Outgroup-directed Emotions." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(12): 1587-1598.
Benning, Stephen D., Christopher J. Patrick, Daniel M. Blonigen, Brian M. Hicks, and William G. Iacono. (2005). “Estimating Facets of Psychopathy From Normal Personality Traits: A Step Toward Community Epidemiological Investigations.” Assessment, 12(1): 3-18.
Berns, Gregory S., Emily Bell, C. Monica Capra, Michael J. Prietula, Sara Moore, Brittany Anderson, Jeremy Ginges, and Scott Atran. (2012). "The Price of Your Soul: Neural Evidence for the Non-utilitarian Representation of Sacred Values." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B: Biological Sciences, 367(589): 754-762.
Bilandzic, Helena and Rick Busselle. (2013). “Narrative Persuasion.” In J. P. Dillard & L. Shen (Eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion: Developments in Theory and Practice (pp. 200-219). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Blair, Rau, J. (2018). “Traits of Empathy and Anger: Implications for Psychopathy and Other Disorders Associated with Aggression." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 373(1744): 1-8.
Braddock, Kurt (2012). Fighting Words: The Persuasive Effect of Online Extremist Narratives on the Radicalization Process (Dissertation), ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
Braddock, Kurt and Dillard, James. (2016). “Meta-analytic Evidence for the Persuasive Effect of Narratives on Beliefs, Attitudes, Intentions, and Behaviors.” Communication Monographs, 83(4): 446-467.
Bruneau, Emile. (2016). “Understanding the Terrorist Mind.” Cerebrum: the Dana Forum on Brain Science, Vol. 2016, Cer-13-16. 1. November.
Buckels, Erin and Trapnell, Paul (2013). “Disgust Facilitates Out-group Dehumanization.” Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 16: 771–780.
Campbell, Rose, and Babrow, Austin. (2004). “The Role of Empathy in Responses to Persuasive Risk Communication: Overcoming Resistance to HIV Prevention Messages.” Health Communication, 16: 159–182.
Canetti, Daphna. (2017). “Emotional Distress, Conflict Ideology, and Radicalization.” PS: Political Science & Politics, 50(4): 940-943.
Carley, Kathleen (2006) “A Dynamic Network Approach to the Assessment of Terrorist Groups and the Impact of Alternative Courses of Action.” In Visualizing Network Information. Available from: http://www.rto.nato.int/abstracts.asp.
Carr, David. (2014). "With Videos of Killings, ISIS Sends Medieval Message by Modern Method." The New York Times, 7.
Casebeer, William and Russell, James. (2005). “Storytelling and Terrorism: Towards a Comprehensive Counter-narrative Strategy.” Strategic Insights, 4(3).
Chadee, Derek, Raymond Surette, Mary Chadee, and Dionne Brewster. (2015). “Copycat Crime Dynamics: The Interplay of Empathy, Narrative Persuasion and Risk With Likelihood to Commit Future Criminality.” Psychology Of Popular Media Culture. June 22.
Cho, Jaeho, Michael P. Boyle, Heejo Keum, Mark D. Shevy, Douglas M. McLeod, Dhavan Shah, and Zhongdang Pan. (2003). “Media, Terrorism, and Emotionality: Emotional Differences in Media Content and Public Reactions to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 47(3): 309-327.
Chory-Assad, Rebecca, and Cicchirillo, Vincent. (2005). “Empathy and Affective Orientation as Predictors of Identification with Television Characters. Communication Research Reports, 22: 151-156.
Cohen, Jonathan. (2006). “Audience Identification with Media Characters.” In J. Bryant and P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of Entertainment (pp. 183–197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Cohen, Shuki. (2016). “Mapping the Minds of Suicide Bombers using Linguistic Methods: The Corpus of Palestinian Suicide Bombers' Farewell Letters.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 39(7-8): 749-780.
Cohen, Shuki, Arie Kruglanski, Michele Gelfand, David Webber, and Rohan
Gunaratna. (2016). “Al-Qaeda’s Propaganda Decoded: A Psycholinguistic System for
Detecting Variations in Terrorism Ideology.” Terrorism and Political Violence: 1-30.
Corman, Steven. (2011) “Understanding the Role of Narrative in Extremist Strategic Communication.” In L. Fenstermacher and S. Canna (Eds.), Countering violent extremism: Scientific Methods and Strategies (pp. 36-43). Dayton, OH: Air Force Research Laboratory.
Crilley, Kathy. (2001). "Information Warfare: New Battlefields, Terrorists, Propaganda and the Internet." Aslib Proceedings. Vol. 53(7). MCB UP Ltd.
Cui, Xu. (2011). "A Quantitative Comparison of NIRS and fMRI Across Multiple Cognitive Tasks." Neuroimage, 54(4): 2808-2821.
Damasio, Antonio. (2004). "Emotions and Feelings." Feelings and Emotions: The Amsterdam Symposium. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Davis, Mark (1983). "Measuring Individual Differences in Empathy: Evidence for a Multidimensional Approach." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1): 113-126.
Dean, Geoff (2014). Neurocognitive Risk Assessment for the Early Detection of Violent Extremists, New York, NY: Springer Briefs in Criminology.
Decety, Jean and Jackson, Phillip. (2006). “A Social Neuroscience Perspective on Empathy.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15: 54–58.
_____. (2004). “The Functional Architecture of Human Empathy.” Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 3: 71–100.
Decety, Jean, and Lamm, Claus. (2006). “Human Empathy Through the Lens of Social Neuroscience.” Scientific World Journal, 6: 1146–1163.
Doi, Hirokazu, Shota Nishitani, and Kazuyuki Shinohara. (2013). "NIRS as a Tool for Assaying Emotional Function in the Prefrontal Cortex." Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7: 770.
Eisenberg, Nancy, and Miller, Paul A. (1987). "The Relation of Empathy to Prosocial and Related Behaviors." Psychological Bulletin, 101(1): 91.
Falk, Emily, Lian Rameson, Elliot Berkman, Betty Liao, Yoona Kang, Tristen Inagaki, and Matthew Lieberman. (2010). "The Neural Correlates of Persuasion: A Common Network Across Cultures and Media." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(11): 2447-2459.
Farwell, James. (2014). “The Media Strategy of ISIS.” Survival, 56(6): 49-55.
Feddes, Allard, Liesbeth Mann, and Bertjan Doosje. (2015)."Increasing Self-esteem and Empathy to Prevent Violent Radicalization: A Longitudinal Quantitative Evaluation of a Resilience Training Focused on Adolescents with a Dual Identity." Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45(7): 400-411.
Gambhir, Harleen. (2014). “Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State.” Institute for the Study of War, 15(4).
Glaser, Jack, Jay Dixit, and Donald Green. (2002). "Studying Hate Crime with the Internet: What Makes Racists Advocate Racial Violence?." Journal of Social Issues, 58(1): 177-193.
Goldie, Peter. (1999). "How We Think of Others’ Emotions." Mind and Language, 14(4): 394-423.
Hancock, Jeffrey T., David I. Beaver, Cindy K. Chung, Joey Frazee, James W. Pennebaker, Art Graesser, and Zhiqiang Cai. (2010). "Social Language Processing: A Framework for Analyzing the Communication of Terrorists and Authoritarian Regimes." Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 2(2): 108-132.
Herring, Susan. (2004a). “Content Analysis for New Media: Rethinking the Paradigm.” In New Research for New Media: Innovative Research Methodologies Symposium Working Papers and Readings (pp. 47-66). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.
_____. (2004b) "Web Content Analysis: Expanding the Paradigm." International Handbook of Internet Research. Springer Netherlands. 233-249.
Himichi, Toshiyuki, and Michio Nomura. (2015). "Modulation of Empathy in the Left Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex Facilitates Altruistic Behavior: An fNIRS Study." Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 14(2): 207-222.
Howard, Tiffiany. (2010). “Failed States and the Spread of Terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33(11): 960-988.
_____. (2014). Failed States and the Origins of Violence: A Comparative Analysis of State Failure as a Root Cause of Terrorism and Political Violence. London: Routledge.
Howard, Tiffiany, Stephen Benning, Brach Poston (2016). “Multi-Method Approaches to Detecting and Decoding Emotive Terrorist Messaging: A Content-Analytic and Network Text Analysis Study of ISIS Propaganda.” Unpublished Working Paper.
Huppert, Hoge, Diamond, Franceschini, and Boas. (2006). "A Temporal Comparison of BOLD, ASL, and NIRS Hemodynamic Responses to Motor Stimuli in Adult Humans." Neuroimage, 29(2): 368-82.
Ilardi, Gaetano Joe (2001). “Redefining the Issues: The Future of Terrorism Research and the Search for Empathy.” In Silke, Andrew, Ed. Research on Terrorism: Trends, Achievements and Failures. London: Frank Cass.
Irani, Farzin, Steven Platek, Scott Bunce, Anthony Ruocco, and Douglas Chute. (2007)."Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS): An Emerging Neuroimaging Technology with Important Applications for the Study of Brain Disorders." The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 21(1): 9-37.
Jääskeläinen, Iiro, Katri Koskentalo, Marja Balk, Taina Autti, Jaakko Kauramäki, Cajus Pomren, and Mikko Sams. (2008). "Inter-subject Synchronization of Prefrontal Cortex Hemodynamic Activity During Natural Viewing." The Open Neuroimaging Journal, 2(1).
Jabbi, Mbemba, Marte Swart, and Christian Keysers. (2007)."Empathy for Positive and Negative Emotions in the Gustatory Cortex." Neuroimage, 34(4): 1744-1753.
Jasper, James. (1998). "The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions in and Around Social Movements." Sociological Forum, 13(3).
Jasper, James and Jane Poulsen. (1995). "Recruiting Strangers and Friends: Moral Shocks and Social Networks in Animal Rights and Anti-nuclear Protests." Social Problems, 42(4): 493-512.
Kanwisher, Nancy, and Galit Yovel. (2006). "The Fusiform Face Area: A Cortical Region Specialized for the Perception of Faces." Philosophical Transactions of the Society B: Biological Sciences, 361(1476): 2109-2128.
Kauttonen, Janne, Yevhen Hlushchuk, and Pia Tikka. (2015). "Optimizing Methods for Linking Cinematic Features to fMRI Data." Neuroimage, 110: 136-148.
Kim, Sang Hee, and Stephan Hamann. (2007)."Neural Correlates of Positive and Negative Emotion Regulation." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(5): 776-798.
Kirsh, Steven (2003). “The Effects of Violent Video games on Adolescents: The Overlooked Influence of Development.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, 8(4): 377-89.
Kraidy, Marwan. (2017). "The Projectilic Image: Islamic State’s Digital Visual Warfare and Global Networked Affect." Media, Culture & Society, 39(8): 1194-1209.
Laird-Johnson, Philipp N., and Keith Oatley. (2000). "Cognitive and Social Construction in Emotions." Handbook of Emotions, 2: 458-475.
Lankinen, Kaisu, Jukka Saari, Ritta Hari, and Miika Koskinen. (2014)."Intersubject Consistency of Cortical MEG Signals During Movie Viewing." NeuroImage, 92: 217-224.
Large, Mary-Ellen, Cristiana Cavina-Pratesi, Tutis Vilis, and Jody C. Culham. (2008). "The Neural Correlates of Change Detection in the Face Perception Network." Neuropsychologia 46(8): 2169-2176.
Lazarus, Richard. (1991). Emotion and Adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Liu, Hugo, Lieberman, Henry and Selker, Ted. (2003). “A Model of Textual Affect Sensing using Real-World Knowledge.” Proceedings of the 2003 International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces, IUI 2003, January 12-15, 2003, Miami, FL, pp. 125-132.
Matsumoto, David, Mark Frank, and Hyisung Hwang. (2015). "The Role of Intergroup Emotions in Political Violence." Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(5): 369-373.
McCauley, Clark, and Sophia Moskalenko. (2011). Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us. New York: Oxford University Press.
Morris, Travis. (2012). "Extracting and Networking Emotions in Extremist Propaganda." Intelligence and Security Informatics Conference (EISIC), 2012 European IEEE.
Ochsner, Kevin, Jennifer Silvers, and Jason Buhle. (2012). "Functional Imaging Studies of Emotion Regulation: A Synthetic Review and Evolving Model of the Cognitive Control of Emotion." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1251(1): E1-E24.
Ochsner, Kevin, Rebecca Ray, Brent Hughes, Kateri McRae, Jeffrey Cooper, Jochen Weber, John DE Gabrieli, and James Gross. (2009). "Bottom-up and Top-down Processes in Emotion Generation: Common and Distinct Neural Mechanisms." Psychological Science, 20(11): 1322-1331.
Oosterwijk, Suzanne, Kristen A. Lindquist, Eric Anderson, Rebecca Dautoff, Yoshiya Moriguchi, Lisa Feldman-Barrett. (2012). "States of Mind: Emotions, Body Feelings, and Thoughts Share Distributed Neural Networks." NeuroImage, 62(3): 2110-2128.
Pennebaker, James and Cindy Chung (2009). “Computerized Text Analysis of Al-Qaeda Transcripts.” In The Content Analysis Reader. Krippendorff, K. and Bock, M.A (Eds). Sage: Los Angeles.
Poston, Brach, Sahana N. Kukke, Rainer W. Paine, Sophia Francis, and Mark Hallett. (2012). "Cortical Silent Period Duration and Its Implications for Surround Inhibition of a Hand Muscle." European Journal of Neuroscience, 36(7): 2964-971.
Preston, Stephanie and de Waal, Frans. (2002). “Empathy: Its Ultimate and Proximate Bases.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25:1-72.
Pretus, Clara, Nafees Hamid, Hammad Sheikh, Jeremy Ginges, Adolf Tobeña, Richard Davis, Oscar Vilarroya, and Scott Atran. (2018). “Neural and Behavioral Correlates of Sacred Values and Vulnerability to Violent Extremism. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.
Robinson, Mark D., and Cori E. Dauber. (2019). "Grading the Quality of ISIS Videos: A Metric for Assessing the Technical Sophistication of Digital Video Propaganda." Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 42(1-2): 70-87.
Salem, Arab, Edna Reid, and Hsinchun Chen. (2008). "Multimedia Content Coding and Analysis: Unraveling the Content of Jihadi Extremist Groups' Videos." Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 31(7): 605-626.
Shane, Scott, and Ben Hubbard. (2014). "ISIS Displaying a Deft Command of Varied Media." New York Times, 30.
Shen, Lijiang. (2010). "Mitigating Psychological Reactance: The Role of Message Induced Empathy in Persuasion." Human Communication Research, 36(3): 397-422.
_____. (2014). "Antecedents to Psychological Reactance: The Impact of Threat, Message Frame, and Choice." Health Communication, 30(10): 1-11
_____. (2018). "Features of Empathy–Arousing Strategic Messages." Health Communication, Published Online, 10 June 2018: 1-11
Shen, Lijiang, and Su-Yeun Seung. (2018). "On Measures of Message Elaboration in Narrative Communication." Communication Quarterly, 66(1): 79-95.
Singer, Tania, Ben Seymour, John P. O'Doherty, Klaas Stephan, Raymond Dolan, and Chris Frith. (2006). “Empathic Neural Responses are Modulated by the Perceived Fairness of Others.” Nature, 439(7075): 466-79.
Smith, Adam. (2010). "Cognitive Empathy and Emotional Empathy in Human Behavior and Evolution." The Psychological Record, 56(1).
Smith, Debra. (2018). "So How Do You Feel about That? Talking with Provos about Emotion." Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 41(6): 433-49.
Swann, William B., Jr., Jolanda Jetten, Angel Gomez, Harvey Whitehouse, and Brock Bastian. (2012)."When Group Membership Gets Personal: A Theory of Identity Fusion." Psychological Review, 119(3): 441-56.
Tausch, Nicole, Julia Becker, Russell Spears, Oliver Christ, Rim Saab, Purnima Singh, and Roomana Siddiqui. (2011). "Explaining Radical Group Behavior: Developing Emotion and Efficacy Routes to Normative and Non-normative Collective Action." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1): 129.
Turner, Jonathan. "The Sociology of Emotions: Basic Theoretical Arguments." Emotion Review, 1(4): 340-354.
Vanderwert, Ross, and Charles Nelson. (2014) "The Use of Near Infrared Spectroscopy in the Study of Typical and Atypical Development." NeuroImage, 85: 264-271.
van Stekelenburg, Jacquelien. (2017). "Radicalization and Violent Emotions." PS: Political Science & Politics, 50(4): 936-939.
van Zomeren, Martijn, Russell Spears, Agneta H. Fischer, Colin Wayne Leach, and Dovidio, John F. (2004). "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Explaining Collective Action Tendencies Through Group-Based Anger and Group Efficacy." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(5): 649-664.
Vergani, Matteo, and Ana-Maria Bliuc. (2018). "The Language of New Terrorism: Differences in Psychological Dimensions of Communication in Dabiq and Inspire." Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 37(5): 523-40.
Wager, Tor, Matthew Davidson, Brent Hughes, Martin Lindquist, and Kevin Ochsner. (2008). "Prefrontal-Subcortical Pathways Mediating Successful Emotion Regulation." Neuron, 59(6): 1037-1050.
Welch, Tyler. (2018). "Theology, Heroism, Justice, and Fear: An Analysis of ISIS Propaganda Magazines Dabiq and Rumiyah." Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 11(3): 186-98.
Williams, Carol A. (1990). “Bio-psychosocial Elements of Empathy: A Multidimensional Model.” Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 11: 155–174.
Windsor, Leah. (2018). "The Language of Radicalization: Female Internet Recruitment to Participation in ISIS Activities." Terrorism and Political Violence. 1-33.
Winkler, Carol, Kareem Eldamanhoury, Aaron Dicker, and Anthony F Lemieux. (2018)."Images of Death and Dying in ISIS Media: A Comparison of English and Arabic Print Publications." Media, War & Conflict. 1-15.
Wojcieszak, Magdalena, and Nuri Kim. (2016). "How to Improve Attitudes Toward Disliked Groups: The Effects of Narrative Versus Numerical Evidence on Political Persuasion." Communication Research, 43(6): 785-809.
Zillmann, Dolf. (2006). “Empathy: Affective Reactivity to Others’ Emotional Experiences.” In J. Bryant and P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of Entertainment (pp. 151–181). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
The JD Journal for Deradicalization uses a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND) Licence. You are free to share - copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, andindicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
NoDerivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.