Sociology Index

Hypotheses of Terrorism

Olson terrorism hypothesis suggests that participants in revolutionary violence predicate their behavior on a rational cost-benefit calculus and the conclusion that violence is the best available course of action given the social conditions. Sociology of Terrorism. According to Professor Franco Ferracuti, a better approach than these and other hypotheses, including the Marxist theory, would be a subcultural theory, which takes into account that terrorists live in their own subculture, with their own values.

Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

The frustration-aggression hypothesis is based mostly on the relative-deprivation hypothesis, as proposed by Ted Robert Gurr, an expert on violent behaviors and movements, and reformulated by J.C. Davies to include a gap between rising expectations and need satisfaction. Another proponent of this hypothesis, Joseph Margolin, argues that "much terrorist behavior is a response to the frustration of various political, economic, and personal needs or objectives."

Political scientist Paul Wilkinson faults the frustration-aggression hypothesis for having "very little to say about the social psychology of prejudice and hatred..." and fanaticisms that "play a major role in encouraging extreme violence." He believes that "Political terrorism cannot be understood outside the context of the development of terroristic, or potentially terroristic, ideologies, beliefs and life-styles. 

Negative Identity Hypothesis

Using Erikson's theory of identity formation, particularly his concept of negative identity, the late political psychologist Jeanne N. Knutson (1981) suggests that the political terrorist consciously assumes a negative identity. One of her examples is a Croatian terrorist who, as a member of an oppressed ethnic minority, was disappointed by the failure of his aspiration to attain a university education, and as a result assumed a negative identity by becoming a terrorist.

Negative identity involves a vindictive rejection of the role regarded as desirable and proper by an individual's family and community. In Knutson's view, terrorists engage in terrorism as a result of feelings of rage and helplessness over the lack of alternatives. Her political science-oriented viewpoint seems to coincide with the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

Narcissistic Rage Hypothesis

The advocates of the narcissism-aggression hypothesis include psychologists Jerrold M. Post, John W. Crayton, and Richard M. Pearlstein. Taking the-terrorists-as-mentally-ill approach, this hypothesis concerns the early development of the terrorist. Basically, if primary narcissism in the form of the "grandiose self" is not neutralized by reality testing, the grandiose self produces individuals who are sociopathic, arrogant, and lacking in regard for others.

If the psychological form of the "idealized parental ego" is not neutralized by reality testing, it can produce a condition of helpless defeatism, and narcissistic defeat can lead to reactions of rage and a wish to destroy the source of narcissistic injury. "As a specific manifestation of narcissistic rage, terrorism occurs in the context of narcissistic injury," writes Crayton (1983:37-8).

For Crayton, terrorism is an attempt to acquire or maintain power or control by intimidation. He suggests that the "meaningful high ideals" of the political terrorist group "protect the group members from experiencing shame."