Individuals becoming terrorists are often described as either “mentally ill”, or as “almost anyone” under the pressure of contextual circumstances. While extremists might be “normal” in a clinical sense they nonetheless bear certain personality signatures. Indeed, results from recent studies indicate that specific personality types are more prone to find the use of violence appealing. Persons that are dogmatic, lack fear and tolerate higher levels of stress are not only overrepresented among those that accept violence, but also among those that take part extremist violence. In contrast, those that join nonviolent groups are characterized by a higher degree of empathy.

Taken together, these findings have clear and potentially fundamental implications for terrorism prevention. Overall, the personality model helps explain individual differences in violent intentions, which may provide us with additional insight into why some individuals, but not others in the same situations, become involved in extremist violence. In the guessing game of who might become a terrorist, our findings suggest that knowledge about an individual’s personality is indeed valuable.

In this seminar Milan Obaidi will present research that highlights individual personality characteristics as important when trying to understand the process of radicalization. Obaidi has also contributed to the development of PRAT (Public Risk Assessment Tool), a new tool that uses machine learning to analyse extremist content to identify the potentially violent extremists among those that post online. The hope is to give authorities a tool to siphon out those most likely to turn rhetoric into action.

Milan Obaidi is Postdoctoral Fellow (Assistant Professor) at C-REX, University of Oslo. He received his PhD from European University Institute, Florence. His research interests include various areas of psychology (social, personality and political) and political science. In his research he investigates the extent to which individual psychological needs, emotions and motives pertaining the management of deprivation, victimization, uncertainty, group threat and perceived injustice are related to intentions, attitudes and acts of political violence.

To host and moderate the seminar and debate we have invited Thomas Hegghammer. Hegghammer is an academic specialist on violent Islamism. He is currently senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and adjunct professor of political science at the University of Oslo. He has published widely in academic journals, including the American Political Science Review and International Security. Hegghammer has written several  books, most recently The Caravan: Abdallah Azzam and the Rise of Global Jihad (Cambridge, forthcoming).

This seminar is hosted by the Consortium for Research on Terrorism and International Crime.