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Adventure and excitement have often been invoked to explain why people engage in political violence, yet empirical evidence on the topic has thus far been anecdotal. The present research sought to fill this gap in knowledge by examining the role of sensation seeking in political violence and integrating this concept with Significance Quest Theory (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009; Kruglanski et al., 2013). Extending prior research on violent extremism, Study 1 found that sensation seeking mediated the relation between meaning in life and willingness to self-sacrifice and support for political violence. Study 2 established temporal precedence of the variables in the mediation model, using a longitudinal design. Studies 3 and 4 experimentally replicated findings of Studies 1 and 2. In Studies 5a and 5b, we found that sensation seeking predicts support for a real life violent activist group. In Studies 6a and 6b, the positive evaluation of a violent activist group by individuals high in sensation seeking was explained by how exciting they perceived the group to be. Finally, Study 7 introduced an intervention targeting the sensation seeking motive by presenting participants with a peaceful (less exciting vs. exciting) activism group. As hypothesized, providing individuals high in sensation seeking with a peaceful yet exciting group mitigated their support for extreme behavior.
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The Role of Sensation Seeking in Political Violence: An Extension of the
Significance Quest Theory
Birga M. Schumpe and Jocelyn J. Bélanger
New York University Abu Dhabi Manuel Moyano
University of Córdoba
Claudia F. Nisa
New York University Abu Dhabi
Adventure and excitement have often been invoked to explain why people engage in political violence,
yet empirical evidence on the topic has thus far been anecdotal. The present research sought to fill this
gap in knowledge by examining the role of sensation seeking in political violence and integrating this
concept with Significance Quest Theory (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009;
Kruglanski et al., 2013). Extending prior research on violent extremism, Study 1 found that sensation
seeking mediated the relation between meaning in life and willingness to self-sacrifice and support for
political violence. Study 2 established temporal precedence of the variables in the mediation model, using
a longitudinal design. Studies 3 and 4 experimentally replicated findings of Studies 1 and 2. In Studies
5a and 5b, we found that sensation seeking predicts support for a real life violent activist group. In Studies
6a and 6b, the positive evaluation of a violent activist group by individuals high in sensation seeking was
explained by how exciting they perceived the group to be. Finally, Study 7 introduced an intervention
targeting the sensation seeking motive by presenting participants with a peaceful (less exciting vs.
exciting) activism group. As hypothesized, providing individuals high in sensation seeking with a
peaceful yet exciting group mitigated their support for extreme behavior.
Keywords: political violence, search for meaning, self-sacrifice, sensation seeking
Understanding what inspires humans to use violence and sacri-
fice their lives for a cause is a pressing issue. In recent years, an
unprecedented number of politically and religiously motivated acts
of violence have taken place across the globe (Institute for Eco-
nomics & Peace, 2017). In 2016, more than 13,400 terrorist attacks
occurred worldwide, resulting in more than 34,000 total deaths,
including more than 11,600 perpetrator deaths (Miller, 2017). In
the same time period, the United Nations Security Council (2015)
estimated that more than 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to
join violent groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS—a staggering
exodus of young adults. Clearly, there are strong psychological
forces that compel individuals to join violent groups. Unveiling the
mechanisms behind these forces is pivotal to reducing the capa-
bility of violent groups to recruit new members.
Recently, scholars have discussed how youth might be lured to
join political or religious movements because of their yearning for
adventure and significance (Atran & Sheikh, 2015; Kruglanski,
Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et al., 2014; Victoroff, 2005; Zim-
bardo, Ferreras, & Brunskill, 2015). We believe that the latter
proposition can be unpacked to provide a fuller and more precise
account of why a growing number of people are hearing and
following the drum beat of extremism. Although research has
recently linked people’s search for meaning (or significance) with
their willingness to self-sacrifice and use violence for a cause
(Bélanger, 2013; Bélanger, Caouette, Sharvit, & Dugas, 2014;
Dugas et al., 2016; Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et
al., 2014), the role of sensation seeking in political extremism has
been suspected, but largely overlooked (Canadian Security Intel-
ligence Service, 2015; Kruglanski & Fishman, 2006). In what
follows, we postulate that sensation seeking—the need for adven-
ture and thrill—bridges the gap between the search for meaning
and extreme behavior. Furthermore, we report converging evi-
dence that the appeal of political violence can be attenuated by
providing a peaceful substitute that fulfills the need for novel and
intense sensations.
The Significance Quest Theory
The present work is grounded in Significance Quest Theory
(SQT; Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009;
Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et al., 2014; Kruglan-
ski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Gunaratna, et al., 2014; Kruglanski et al.,
2013; Kruglanski & Orehek, 2011), which posits that the desire to
matter and to feel meaningful is a fundamental human need (see
also Frankl, 1959, 1966). Work guided by this theoretical frame-
Birga M. Schumpe and Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Department of Psychology,
New York University Abu Dhabi; Manuel Moyano, Department of Psy-
chology, University of Córdoba; Claudia F. Nisa, Department of Psychol-
ogy, New York University Abu Dhabi.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Birga M.
Schumpe, Department of Psychology, New York University Abu Dhabi,
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. E-mail: birga.schumpe@nyu.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
Personality Processes and Individual Differences
© 2018 American Psychological Association 2018, Vol. 1, No. 999, 000
0022-3514/18/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000223
1
work has shown that, when deprived of significance, people be-
come strongly motivated to initiate actions that allow them to
restore a sense of significance. In a series of cross-cultural studies,
Dugas et al. (2016) observed that significance can be restored
through self-sacrifice for a highly valued cause. For example, Iraqi
and Palestinian refugees living in Jordan reported greater willing-
ness to self-sacrifice when they felt insignificant. Experimentally
thwarting participants’ need for competence and belongingness also
led to an increase in people’s willingness to self-sacrifice. In their last
study, Dugas et al. (2016) found that making sacrifices at the behest
of an important cause increases feelings of significance. Specifically,
after recalling a time when they had made a sacrifice for a cause (vs.
recalling a pleasurable experience), participants reported greater pride,
personal worth, significance, and purpose in life.
Of particular relevance to the present research, previous studies
have also shown that the quest for significance predicts other extreme
forms of behavior such as support for political violence. In a sample
of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Bélanger (2013) showed that the
more extremists felt insignificant (i.e., small, worthless, and hopeless)
the more they supported armed struggle to obtain a separate country.
Notably, this relationship was mediated by terrorists’ willingness to
self-sacrifice for their ideological convictions, which suggests that
loss of significance potentiates the readiness to endorse one’s group’s
ideology and risk life and limb for it.
Connecting the Search for Meaning to Extreme
Behaviors: The Role of Sensation Seeking
For decades, terrorism scholars and government agencies have
argued that one of the main appeals of terrorism is the possibility of
engaging in an exciting and thrilling social movement (Atran, 2014;
Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2015; Hacker, 1983; Kellen,
1979; Levine, 1999; Nussio, 2017; Victoroff, 2005). This proposition
is consistent with several observations such as radicalized youth
traveling abroad to join the ranks of ISIS or al-Qaeda (United Nations
Security Council, 2015), retrospective accounts of individuals who
joined violent armed groups (Nussio, 2017), as well as a few accounts
of incarcerated violent extremists reporting excitement as a reason for
their involvement in ideologically driven movements (Juergensmeyer,
2000). Although the sensation-seeking-violent-extremism hypothesis
has been around for many years, support for it is merely anecdotal in
nature and needs to be subjected to empirical scrutiny.
There are in fact strong theoretical grounds to consider sensation
seeking in the radicalization process leading to violence. As stated
previously, the SQT postulates that individuals searching for meaning
are strongly motivated to restore significance (Kruglanski et al., 2013;
Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et al., 2014). To achieve
this goal, individuals need to find “the appropriate means to signifi-
cance” (Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et al., 2014, p. 74)
such as ideologies that “promise significance if only one followed its
dictates” (p. 81).
In the present research, we hypothesized that individuals who
search for meaning broaden their mind to novel, varied, and
exploratory thoughts and actions. Similar ideas have been dis-
cussed by political scientist Quintan Wiktorowicz in his concept of
“cognitive opening” (2005)—the notion that individuals become
receptive to new ideas and worldviews in the aftermath of a
personal crisis (e.g., discrimination, socioeconomic disparities,
political repression, etc.)—or by Kurt Lewin (1947) in his seminal
work on force field theory. When individuals find important needs
thwarted, such as the need for meaning in life, they become
motivated to change (Lewin, 1947; Schein, 1996). Experiences
such as humiliation or discrimination demonstrate that previous
behavior is ineffective and hence, trigger “scanning,” that is,
individuals search for a solution by exposing themselves to a
variety of new information (Schein, 1996, see also Zand & So-
rensen, 1975). And indeed, there is evidence that openness and
curiosity can increase meaning in life (e.g., Kashdan & Steger,
2007; Lavigne, Hofman, Ring, Ryder, & Woodward, 2013).
In terms of our theory, the search for meaning in life (sparked by
a loss of significance, humiliation, or a personal crisis) motivates
people to look for novel and stimulating experiences in an attempt
to restore feelings of significance. This search is depicted in the
construct of sensation seeking, which has been defined as “the
seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and
experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and
financial risks for the sake of such experience” (Zuckerman, 1994,
p. 27). Such a relationship has been hypothesized earlier by exis-
tential theorist Viktor Frankl (1959, 1966) and documented by
Melton and Schulenberg (2007) as well as Fahlman, Mercer,
Gaskovski, Eastwood, and Eastwood (2009), who found that lack
of meaning in life manifests itself in boredom proneness—a facet
of sensation seeking. Specifically, Fahlman et al. (2009) provided
causal evidence that meaning in life leads to boredom proneness,
which in turn, increases individuals’ desire to engage in exciting
and stimulating activities (e.g., Berlyne, 1960; for a review see
Smith, 1981). Indeed, there is substantial evidence that boredom
leads to novelty seeking (Ha & Jang, 2015) as well as to sensation
seeking behaviors such as impulsive, risky, violent, and dangerous
behaviors (Baumeister & Campbell, 1999; for an overview see
Boden, 2009). Overall, it follows that sensation seeking induced
through the search for meaning could facilitate people’s adherence
to new exciting beliefs including (but not limited to) fighting for a
political cause and risking life and limbs for it.
The idea that engaging in risky or aggressive problem behaviors
as the result of a lack of meaning in life is well documented (e.g.,
Brassai, Piko, & Steger, 2011; Frankl, 1966; Shek, Ma, & Cheung,
1994). For instance, our theorizing is in line with Orit Taubman-
Ben-Ari (2004), who argues that young people are prone to finding
a “sense of aliveness” in risky behaviors (‘walking on the edge,’ p.
106). The excitement and thrill of extreme and dangerous behav-
iors can intensify one’s sense of living a meaningful existence
(Taubman-Ben-Ari, 2011) or provide an opportunity to escape
negative self-awareness (Baumeister, 1991; Taylor & Hamilton,
1997). Moreover, exciting and sensation-affording activities can
be significance-lending because they often demand courage and
hence can lead to admiration and confirm important attributes of
personal identity (Jessor, 1982, 1991). In that sense, sensation
seeking behavior can be understood as means to the goal of feeling
significant (e.g., Kruglanski, Chernikova, Babush, Dugas, &
Schumpe, 2015; Kruglanski et al., 2002). This is in line with Jessor
(1982, p. 196), who argues that engaging in problem behaviors can
be seen as “purposeful, meaningful, goal-oriented and functional
rather than arbitrary or perverse” (see also Köpetz, 2017). This is
so because the immediate gain is deemed more important than
potential long term costs (Jessor, 1991). Although meaning can
also be achieved by other significance-lending means such as
notable and admired achievements, the thrill of excitement and
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2SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
adventure offers a more immediate solution (cf. Martin, 1999;
Zimbardo & Coulombe, 2016). Taken together, we hypothesize
that the search for meaning can trigger the opening to novel,
varied, and intense stimulation, meaning that it can lead to sensa-
tion seeking.
Although its relation to politically or religiously motivated
violence has never been empirically tested, a rich literature on
sensation seeking (e.g., Zuckerman, 1969, 1979, 2007) has dis-
cussed people’s need to seek out novel and intense stimulation. For
example, sensation seeking has been positively related to a variety
of high-risk activities such as criminal behavior (Horvath & Zuck-
erman, 1993), delinquency in youth (Pérez & Torrubia, 1985),
reckless driving, speeding, smoking marijuana or using other ille-
gal drugs, as well as risky sexual behaviors (Arnett, 1998; Bradley
& Wildman, 2002; Charnigo et al., 2013; Jonah, 1997; Taubman-
Ben-Ari, Eherenfreund-Hager, & Prato, 2016; Zuckerman, Ey-
senck, & Eysenck, 1978). Sensation seeking has also been asso-
ciated with a preference for high-risk sports (e.g., skydiving or
rock climbing, Jack & Ronan, 1998; Zuckerman, 1983), watching
fights, or actively engaging in them (Russell, 2004; Russell &
Arms, 1998).
Overall, sensation seeking predicts negative risks such as drug
use and criminal activities, but it also predicts positive risks such
as sports, riding roller coasters, and going on blind dates (Fischer
& Smith, 2004). Moreover, there is also evidence that individuals
high in sensation seeking look for riskier jobs such as police
officers, fire-fighters, and rescue units (Goma
`-i-Freixanet, Pérez,
& Torrubia, 1988; Montag & Birenbaum, 1986), showing that
sensation seeking is not uniquely associated with violence. Thus,
understanding how the need for novel and exciting experiences can
be redirected toward prosocial endeavors appears vital to help
people reach their goals without resorting to violence.
Interventions Targeting the Sensation Seeking Motive
Historically, the study of sensation seeking (Zuckerman, 1969)
began with the finding that individuals react differently to sensory
deprivation: some individuals need more stimulation than others to
feel comfortable. Berlyne (1960, 1971) suggested a curvilinear
relationship between the arousal potential of stimuli and their
hedonic value: Low-arousing stimuli elicited little or no pleasur-
able affect; moderately arousing stimuli produced a pleasurable
affective response, but beyond a maximal level of arousal, pleas-
antness decreases. Because optimal levels of stimulation and
arousal vary among individuals (Eysenck, 1963, 1967; Gray, 1964;
Zuckerman, 1969; Zuckerman, Kolin, Price, & Zoob, 1964), peo-
ple differ in how much they need novel and intense stimulation to
feel and function well (Zuckerman et al., 1964).
Given that sensation seeking is related to numerous unhealthy and
illegal behaviors (e.g., Newcomb & McGee, 1991), prevention and
intervention messages have been tailored to the needs of high sensa-
tion seekers. To this end, Palmgreen and colleagues (Palmgreen &
Donohew, 2010; Palmgreen, Donohew, Lorch, Hoyle, & Stephenson,
2001) developed the SENTAR (SENsation seeking TARgeting)
model that posits that individuals high in sensation seeking prefer
stimulating messages with high sensation value (Donohew, Lorch, &
Palmgreen, 1991). For instance, high sensation value can involve
messages that are novel, complex, intense, and involve sudden
changes (Berlyne, 1960, 1971). Thus, to reach at-risk populations, that
is, individuals high in sensation seeking, the content as well as the
context of the messages needs to be considered. Accordingly,
Palmgreen and Donohew (2010) tested high sensation value messages
for health campaigns (e.g., TV public service announcements) placed
in high sensation value context (dramatic, fast-paced TV content).
The effectiveness of the SENTAR approach was demonstrated
for reducing behaviors such as drug use and risky sex (e.g.,
Palmgreen et al., 2001; Zimmerman et al., 2007). Since then, the
SENTAR approach has guided several large-scale prevention and
intervention programs (Palmgreen, Lorch, Stephenson, Hoyle, &
Donohew, 2007). Attesting to its effectiveness, individuals high
(versus low) in sensation seeking paid more attention to public
service announcements in drug use prevention programs that were
high (versus low) in stimulation and embedded in TV programs
that were high (versus low) in sensation value (Lorch et al., 1994).
Furthermore, individuals high in sensation seeking were more
likely to call a helpline when presented with a stimulating (versus
nonstimulating) public service announcement (Palmgreen et al.,
1995). Overall, SENTAR uses communication strategies tailored
to the needs of individuals inclined to engage in various risky and
unhealthy behaviors.
The literature on sensation seeking also points to the importance
of providing alternative means to satisfy sensation-related needs
(Arnett, 1995; Roberti, 2004). One example can be found in the
realm of risky sex in homosexual men whereby sensation seeking
strongly correlates with the frequency of unprotected anal inter-
course, which poses a great risk for HIV infection (Dudley, Ros-
tosky, Korfhage, & Zimmerman, 2004; Kalichman, Heckman, &
Kelly, 1996). Zuckerman (2007) suggested intervention programs
proposing alternative forms of sexual gratification that are less
risky than coital sex, such as mutual masturbation and oral sex.
With regard to drug abuse treatment programs, Zuckerman
(2007) observed that the question of how life would look after drug
cessation comes up regularly. Working a monotonous 9-to-5 job or
settling down in a monogamous relationship is not in line with the
motives of most sensation seekers. Therefore, it has been sug-
gested that programs should offer more healthy alternatives for the
expression of the sensation seeking motive that are also able to
satisfy arousal related needs (Arnett, 1995; Roberti, 2004; Zuck-
erman, 2007).
Counteracting Political Violence by Addressing
Psychological Needs
The foregoing analysis indicates that prevention and interven-
tion messages should be tailored to address recipients’ psycholog-
ical needs and provide healthier alternatives to satisfy them. Thus,
if wanting to engage in political violence is indeed fueled by the
desire for novel and stimulating experiences, it follows that anti-
violence campaigns are more likely to be effective if they address
these psychological motives. However, one observation concern-
ing current campaigns against political violence is that they gen-
erally advocate for moderation when trying to persuade young
adults not to join violent groups. As Upal (2015) observes, “most
of our ad-hoc counter narrative efforts on both social and tradi-
tional mass media focus on pointing out logical absurdities of
Jihadist worldview (e.g., ‘so DAESH wants to build a future, well
is beheading a future you want, or someone controlling details of
your diet and dress’), but do not offer a well thought out compre-
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3
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
hensive alternative narrative” (p. 65). This discrepancy led us to
believe that current antiviolence campaigns would be more effec-
tive when tapping into the psychological needs of at-risk popula-
tions. Specifically, providing exciting, yet peaceful, alternatives,
such as nonviolent groups, could potentially channel the sensation
seeking motive in a prosocial direction. This echoes anthropologist
and terrorism expert, Scott Atran, who observed that in the context
of preventing Islamist extremism, appeals to “moderate Islam” are
likely to fail because these messages are not tailored to the youth’s
psychological needs. He notes: “When I hear another tired appeal
to ‘moderate Islam,’ usually from much older folk, I ask: Are you
kidding? Do not any of you have teenage children? When did
‘moderate’ anything have wide appeal for youth yearning for
adventure, glory, and significance?” (Atran, 2015, p. 3). Accord-
ingly, Atran (2015) emphasized the necessity of providing the
youth with exciting life projects that enable them to find a mean-
ingful existence within society. The quest for personal significance
also makes a similar prediction: “Whether a prosocial or antisocial
behavior is enacted should depend on the ideology that identifies
the means to significance. Producing a shift from a terrorism-
warranting ideology to one that identifies alternative routes to
significance thus seems essential to eliminating violence” (Krug-
lanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et al., 2014, p. 79). In line
with this proposition, our objective is to test whether providing an
exciting, yet peaceful, alternative to political violence would steer
sensation seekers away from violent groups.
Overview of Studies
The present research examined the role of sensation seeking in
political violence by integrating this concept to SQT. Extending prior
work on extremism (Bélanger, 2013; Dugas et al., 2016), Study 1
examined whether sensation seeking would mediate the relationship
between search for meaning in life and extreme behavior (i.e., self-
sacrifice and support for political violence). Study 2 replicated Study
1 using a longitudinal design to demonstrate that the search for
meaning is associated with sensation seeking, which, in turn, prospec-
tively predicts support for political violence three months later. Stud-
ies 3 and 4 conceptually replicated Studies 1 and 2 using experimental
manipulations of meaning in life. In Studies 5a and 5b, we tested the
hypothesis that activists’ sensation seeking would be positively asso-
ciated with supporting a violent political group. Studies 6a and 6b
sought to explore the underlying psychological mechanism related to
Study 5’s findings by examining activists’ excitement toward the
violent group. After identifying sensation seeking as a predictor of
extreme behavior and understanding that perceiving violence as ex-
citing is what attracts sensation seekers to these groups, we tested an
intervention to mitigate support for political violence. Specifically, in
Study 7, we presented activists with an exciting -yet peaceful- alter-
native group to reduce support for political violence among high
sensation seekers.
Study 1
The purpose of Study 1 was to provide initial evidence that
sensation seeking plays a role in political violence. Whereas pre-
vious research has established that search for meaning increases
support for extreme behaviors (i.e., self-sacrifice and support for
political violence, Bélanger, 2013; Dugas et al., 2016), this study
aims to demonstrate that this relationship is mediated by the desire
for novel and stimulating experiences. Thus overall, we predicted
that search for meaning would be positively associated with sen-
sation seeking, which in turn would be positively related with the
willingness to self-sacrifice for a cause and, consequently, lead to
support for political violence.
Method
Participants and design. To estimate the sample size needed
to test our mediation model, we used the tool developed by
Schoemann, Boulton, and Short (2017). Assuming small to mod-
erate effect sizes and setting power at .80, a sample size of 445
people was suggested. In this study, 460 participants (293 women,
M
age
31.45, SD
age
13.90) from Andalusia, Spain participated
in this research on a voluntary basis. Data were collected through
face-to-face interviews.
Procedure and materials. Participants responded to a ques-
tionnaire intended to measure search for meaning, sensation seek-
ing, willingness to self-sacrifice, support for violence, as well as
demographics. Studies 1 and 2 were conducted at a University in
Spain, where no Research Ethics Committee or Institutional Re-
view Board is implemented or required.
Measures.
Search for meaning. We used the five-item scale by Steger,
Frazier, Oishi, and Kaler (2006) to assess the extent to which
participants search for meaning in their lives (␣⫽.90; e.g., “I am
always searching for something that makes my life feel signifi-
cant”; 1 Absolutely untrue;7Absolutely true).
Sensation seeking. Sensation seeking was measured using
Hoyle, Stephenson, Palmgreen, Lorch, and Donohew’s (2002)
eight-item scale (␣⫽.82; e.g., “I would love to have new and
exciting experiences, even if they are illegal”; 1 Strongly dis-
agree;5Strongly agree).
Willingness to self-sacrifice. Participants’ willingness to self-
sacrifice for a cause was assessed using the 10-item (␣⫽.87) scale
developed by Bélanger et al. (2014). Example items include “I
would be ready to give my life for a cause that is extremely dear
to me” (1 Not agree at all; 7Very strongly agree).
Support for political violence. We used the 21-item (␣⫽.81)
belief toward violence scale developed by Bélanger, Richardson,
Lafrenière, McCaffery, and Framand (2017) to measure partici-
pants’ support for violence (e.g., “Violence is permissible when
conducted by a group fighting for a just cause” and “No cause is
important enough to justify the killing of civilians (reverse-
scored)”; 1 Strongly disagree;6Strongly agree).
Results and Discussion
The predicted model was tested with AMOS (Arbuckle, 2007)
using maximum likelihood estimation procedure. We included
gender (coded 0 male; 1 female) as a control variable because
gender differences in the sensation seeking motive have been
frequently reported (Zuckerman, 1979, 2007). In total, seven paths
were specified: One path from search for meaning to sensation
seeking, one path from sensation seeking to self-sacrifice, one path
from sensation seeking to support for political violence, one path
from self-sacrifice to support for political violence, as well as three
paths from gender to the predicted variables (see Figure 1). We
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4SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
display means, standard deviations, and correlations for all mea-
sures in Table 1.
1
Results revealed that the hypothesized model fits
the data well,
2
(df 2, N460) 1.16, p.561, GFI .99,
CFI 1.00, IFI 1.00, RMSEA .00, AIC 27.16.
Search for meaning predicted sensation seeking (␤⫽.24, p
.001), which predicted willingness to self-sacrifice (␤⫽.15, p
.001), which in turn predicted support for political violence (␤⫽
.16, p.001). Bootstrapped confidence interval estimates of the
indirect effect (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) were calculated to test the
significance of mediation. Results showed an indirect effect of
search for meaning on support for political violence via sensation
seeking and willingness to self-sacrifice (␤⫽.04; 95% CI [.01,
.06]). Sensation seeking was also predictive of support for political
violence (␤⫽.12, p.007). Gender was significantly related to
sensation seeking (␤⫽⫺.11, p.019) and support for political
violence (␤⫽⫺.18, p.001), but not to self-sacrifice (␤⫽⫺.04,
p.43).
Findings of Study 1 provide initial evidence for the role of
sensation seeking in explaining people’s willingness to engage in
violence. Specifically, our model hypothesized a mediating effect
of sensation seeking between search for meaning and willingness
to self-sacrifice and support for political violence. Therefore, re-
sults of Study 1 extend prior work that found a connection between
search for meaning in life and extreme behaviors (i.e., self-
sacrifice and support for political violence, Bélanger, 2013; Dugas
et al., 2016). In conclusion, increased sensation seeking is one
mechanism that links the search for meaning to greater willingness
to self-sacrifice and to engage in violent behaviors. Moreover,
these findings are consistent with the concepts of cognitive open-
ing (Wiktorowicz, 2005) and scanning (Lewin, 1947; Schein,
1996) that were hypothesized to occur when the fundamental need
to feel meaningful is not fulfilled. One limitation of Study 1 is that
it remains of correlational nature. To further corroborate the di-
rection of the effect, Study 2 implemented a longitudinal design.
Study 2
Radicalization leading to violence is a process that takes time.
However, research to date has not shown how this process exactly
unfolds. We believe the process starts with the search for meaning,
which increases the desire for novel experiences. This makes
people more susceptible to adhere to extreme ideological beliefs
supporting political violence. In Study 2, we employed a longitu-
dinal design to test for the effect of search for meaning on support
for political violence via increased sensation seeking over the
course of several months. The implemented design allowed us to
measure the hypothesized cause (search for meaning at time point
1) as well as the hypothesized mechanism (sensation seeking at
time point 1) before the hypothesized consequence (change in
support for political violence at time point 2). Moreover, we
controlled for support for political violence at time point 1, thereby
ruling out potential confounds (Gollob & Reichardt, 1991; Heaven
& Ciarrochi, 2008; Soenens et al., 2008).
Method
Participants and design. We used the same tool as in Study
1 to estimate the required sample size. Setting power at .80 and
assuming small to moderate effect sizes, the suggested sample size
was 325 respondents (320 if we based estimations on the correla-
tion matrix obtained in Study 1). We aimed for 370 participants
because of an anticipated dropout of about 10%, which seems
typical for longitudinal studies (e.g., Weiss, 2005). Three hundred
seventy-one participants from Spain (269 women; M
age
27.89,
SD
age
11.95) took the survey on a voluntary basis. Three months
later, 269 participants (197 women, M
age
27.70, SD
age
11.74)
completed the survey again.
Procedure and materials. Participants responded to an on-
line questionnaire measuring their search for meaning in life,
sensation seeking, support for political violence, and demograph-
ics at two time points (November 2016 and February 2017). Short
1
We log-transformed support for violence but report means and stan-
dard deviations for raw data for better understandability. In the following
studies, we did the same for all non-normally distributed variables.
Figure 1. Indirect effect of search for meaning on support for political violence through sensation seeking and
self-sacrifice, controlling for gender (Study 1).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Gender: 0 male, 1 female.
Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 1 (N 460)
Variable MSD 23 4 5
Search for meaning (1) 4.33 1.44 .23
ⴱⴱ
.07 .01 .06
Sensation seeking (2) 3.04 .90 .15
.16
.09
Self-sacrifice (3) 3.96 1.13 .19
ⴱⴱ
.05
Support for violence (4) 1.78 0.66 .20
ⴱⴱ
Gender
a
(5) 0.64 0.48
a
0male; 1 female.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
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5
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
versions of the scales were utilized to keep the time it took to
complete the questionnaire as well as participant attrition to a
minimum.
Measures.
Search for meaning. We used three items of the scale used in
Study 1 (Time 1: ␣⫽.80; Time 2: ␣⫽.85).
Sensation seeking. We used four items of the scale used in
Study 1 (Time 1: ␣⫽.69; Time 2: ␣⫽.76).
Support for political violence. We used seven items of the
scale used in Study 1 (Time 1: ␣⫽.62; Time 2: ␣⫽.70).
Results and Discussion
Between time points 1 and 2, there was an attrition rate of about
27%. First, we tested for a possible attrition bias (Goodman &
Blum, 1996; Miller & Hollist, 2007). We used logistic regression
to test whether age, gender, search for meaning, sensation seeking,
or support for political violence at time point 1 was predictive of
participants either finishing at time point 2 or dropping out of the
survey (all ps.12). Therefore, we can conclude that participants
who dropped out after time point 1 were not systematically dif-
ferent from those who completed the study at time point 2.
Second, we tested the mediating role of sensation seeking in the
relationship between search for meaning and support for political
violence. Analyses were conducted with AMOS (Arbuckle, 2007)
and maximum likelihood estimation procedure. Akin to Study 1,
we included gender (coded 0 male; 1 female) as a control
variable. More importantly, the longitudinal design of Study 2
controlled for support for political violence at time point 1 to rule
out a possible confound. In total, six paths were specified: One
path from search for meaning to sensation seeking, one path from
sensation seeking to support for political violence, as well as four
paths from the control variables to the predicted variables (see
Figure 2). We display means, standard deviations, and correlations
for all measures in Table 2. Results revealed that the hypothesized
model fits the data well,
2
(df 1, N269) 1.28, p.23,
GFI .99, CFI .99, IFI .99, RMSEA .03, AIC 29.29.
Search for meaning at time point 1 predicted sensation seeking
at time point 1 (␤⫽.32, p.001), which predicted support for
political violence at time point 2 (␤⫽.12, p.02). Bootstrapped
confidence interval estimates (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) showed an
indirect effect of search for meaning on support for political
violence via sensation seeking (␤⫽.03; 95% CI [.006, .069]).
Support for political violence at time point 1 was related to
sensation seeking at time point 1 (␤⫽.25, p.001) and to
support for political violence at time point 2 (␤⫽.65, p.001).
Gender was related to sensation seeking at time point 1 (␤⫽.11,
p.04), but not to support for political violence at time point 2
(␤⫽⫺.04, p.35).
Replicating Study 1, results supported the hypothesized medi-
ating effect of sensation seeking between search for meaning and
support for political violence. Moreover, Study 2 demonstrated
that radicalization is a process that unfolds over time: Sensation
seeking increased as a result of heightened search for meaning
in life, which then led to greater support for political violence
later on.
Study 2 overcomes limitation of Study 1 by providing evidence
for the causal relationship between the variables in our model—
because a fundamental requirement for causality is that one vari-
able precedes the other in time (Holland, 1986; Sobel, 1990).
However, only an experiment in which search for meaning is
manipulated allows to test the hypothesized causal relationship
between variables in our model.
Study 3
Study 3 tested the causal relationship of our model. We expected
that experimentally increasing people’s meaning in life would
decrease their need for sensation seeking and thus, reduce their
Table 2
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 2 (N 269)
Variable MSD 234 5
Search for meaning T1 (1) 3.51 1.55 .32
ⴱⴱ
.08 .00 .08
Sensation seeking T1 (2) 3.98 1.26 .26
ⴱⴱ
.24
ⴱⴱ
.11
Violence T2 (3) 1.69 0.71 .68
ⴱⴱ
.11
Violence T1 (4) 1.65 0.62 .13
Gender
a
(5) 0.73 0.44
Note. T1 and T2 denote two time points of measurement.
a
0male; 1 female.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
Figure 2. Indirect effect of search for meaning on support for political violence through sensation seeking over
two time points (T1 and T2), controlling for support for political violence at T1 as well as for gender (Study 2).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Gender: 0 male, 1 female.
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6SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
support for political violence. Specifically, we hypothesized that
individuals who reflect on their current legacy (i.e., something to
pass on to make a meaningful, lasting and energizing contribution
to humanity; Cave, 2012; Kotre, 1999), would perceive more
meaning in their lives and thus report lower sensation seeking and
support for political violence.
Method
Participants and design. Expecting a strong effect of the
experimental manipulation, we estimated the sample size to be 112
participants with power set at .80. The final sample comprised 121
participants (64 women, M
age
31.73 SD
age
6.91) on MTurk
for an experimental design with two conditions.
Procedure and materials. Participants read a short text de-
fining what a legacy is (i.e., something to pass on; a meaningful
contribution to humanity). Then, they were randomly assigned to
one of two experimental conditions. In the legacy condition, par-
ticipants were asked to write down their current legacy. In the
control condition, participants were asked to write about their
favorite style of sports shoes. Next, we measured search for
meaning, sensation seeking, support for political violence, as well
as demographic variables. This study as well as all following
studies were approved by the Institutional Review Board (“Sen-
sation seeking,” #095–2017).
Measures.
Search for meaning. We measured search for meaning using
the same items as in Study 1 (␣⫽.97).
Sensation seeking. We measured sensation seeking using the
same items as in Study 1 (␣⫽.85).
Support for political violence. Participants’ support for polit-
ical violence was measured using a short 12-item version (␣⫽.85;
1Strongly disagree; 9Strongly agree) of the scale used in
Study 1.
Results and Discussion
The predicted model was tested with AMOS (Arbuckle, 2007)
using maximum likelihood estimation procedure. Three paths were
specified: one path from experimental condition (0 control, 1
legacy) to search for meaning, one path from search for meaning
to sensation seeking, and one path from sensation seeking to
support for political violence (see Figure 3). We display means,
standard deviations, and correlations for all measures in Table 3.
Results revealed that the hypothesized model fits the data well,
2
(df 3, N121) 1.51, p.679, GFI .99, CFI 1.00,
IFI 1.00, RMSEA .00, AIC 15.51. Experimental condition
was predictive of search for meaning (␤⫽⫺.20, p.03), which
in turn predicted sensation seeking (␤⫽.18, p.045), which was
positively associated with support for political violence (␤⫽.37,
p.001). We calculated bootstrapped confidence interval esti-
mates (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) and confirmed the indirect effect
(␤⫽⫺.01; 95% CI [.044, .001]).
In support of our theorizing, experimentally increasing meaning
in people’s lives lowered sensation seeking and consequently, their
support for political violence. This suggests that giving meaning,
and thus, fulfilling the quest for personal significance, has a
trickle-down effect on other motives such as the desire to engage
in novel and exciting experiences and thus, help people steer clear
from political violence. Accordingly, we demonstrated the causal
relationship between the variables of our postulated model. How-
ever, Study 3 had a small sample size and the manipulation was
only geared toward decreasing (vs. increasing) the search for
meaning. Study 4 was conducted to overcome these limitations.
Study 4
Study 4 aimed at conceptually replicating Study 3. We experi-
mentally increased the search for meaning using a recall task.
Method
Participants and design. Based on the effect sizes obtained in
Study 3, we estimated the required sample size to be 305 with .80
power (Schoemann et al., 2017). We recruited 305 participants
(149 women; M
age
34.71 SD
age
11.57) on MTurk for an
experimental design with two between-subject conditions.
Procedure and materials. Participants were told that the
study examined people’s recollection of events. They were ran-
domly assigned to either write about (a) a time when they were
looking to find their life’s purpose and felt that they were search-
ing for meaning in life (search for meaning condition), or (b) the
last time they went out to buy sports shoes and how they made
their purchase decision (control condition). In both conditions,
participants were asked to recall this time vividly and to include as
much detail as possible to relive the experience. A similar proce-
dure has been used in prior research to induced situational mind-
sets (see Bélanger, Lafrenière, Vallerand, & Kruglanski, 2013).
Table 3
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 3 (N 121)
Variable MSD23 4
Exp. condition
a
(1) 0.50 0.50 .20
.05 .05
Search for meaning (2) 4.19 1.76 .18
.12
Sensation seeking (3) 2.68 0.90 .37
ⴱⴱ
Support for violence (4) 2.58 1.08
a
0control, 1 legacy.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
Figure 3. Indirect effect of experimental condition on support for political violence via search for meaning and
sensation seeking (Study 3).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Experimental condition: 0 control, 1 legacy.
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7
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
Next, we measured search for meaning, sensation seeking, support
for political violence, as well as demographic variables.
Measures.
Search for meaning. We measured search for meaning using
the same items as in Study 1 (␣⫽.97; 1 Not agree at all,7
Very strongly agree).
Sensation seeking. We measured sensation seeking using the
same items (␣⫽.89) as in Study 1 (1 Not agree at all,7Very
strongly agree).
Support for political violence. We used the same measure
(␣⫽.96; 1 Not agree at all; 7Very strongly agree”) as in
Study 1.
Results and Discussion
The predicted model was tested with AMOS (Arbuckle, 2007)
using maximum likelihood estimation procedure. Three paths were
specified: one path from experimental condition (0 control, 1
search for meaning) to search for meaning, one path from search
for meaning to sensation seeking, and one path from sensation
seeking to support for political violence (see Figure 4). We display
means, standard deviations, and correlations for all measures in
Table 4. Results revealed that the hypothesized model fits the data
well,
2
(df 3, N305) 1.63, p.65, GFI .99, CFI
1.00, IFI 1.00, RMSEA .00, AIC 15.62. Experimental
condition was predictive of search for meaning (␤⫽.11, p
.048), which in turn predicted sensation seeking (␤⫽.43, p
.001), which was positively associated with support for political
violence (␤⫽.54, p.001). We calculated bootstrapped confi-
dence interval estimates (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) and confirmed
the indirect effect (␤⫽.03; 95% CI [.002, .055]).
In support of our theorizing, experimentally inducing search for
meaning led to increased levels of sensation seeking, which in turn
led to greater support for political violence. This conceptually
replicates Study 3 and further corroborates our hypotheses regard-
ing the causal relationships between the variables of our model.
Whereas Studies 1–4 provide convergent evidence for our hypoth-
eses using a general and abstract measure of support for political
violence, the following studies measured the extent to which
people support real violent activist groups.
Study 5a
In Study 5a, we wanted to conceptually replicate Studies 1–4
and test the validity of our model to predict support for a violent
activist group. We aim to demonstrate that activists’ search for
meaning would translate into supporting a real activist group that
engages in violence and that this effect would be mediated by
individuals’ level of sensation seeking.
Method
Participants and design. Based on the correlations obtained
in previous studies and power set at .80, the estimated sample size
was 240 participants (the same estimate was obtained when as-
suming medium effect sizes). The final sample comprised 234
participants (123 women; M
age
33.56, SD
age
9.62) recruited
via MTurk. The study explicitly asked for animal right activists.
Procedure and materials. We measured participants’ search
for meaning, sensation seeking, as well as their evaluation of a
violent animal rights activism group. Participants were presented
with a text that described the activist group. The animal rights
activism group was said to have tracked down and threatened
numerous researchers and students who used animals for their
research (violent practices mentioned included causing fear and
injuries, kill threats as well as car bombing).
Measures.
Search for meaning. We measured search for meaning using
the same items as in Study 1 (␣⫽.95; 1 Not agree at all,7
Very strongly agree).
Sensation seeking. We measured sensation seeking using the
same items (␣⫽.94) as in Study 1 (1 Not agree at all,7Very
strongly agree).
Evaluation of activist group. Participants’ evaluation of the
activist group was measured using the following four items (␣⫽
.97; 1 Not agree at all; 7Very strongly agree): “I would
consider joining this group”; “I like this group of activists”; “I
would support this group”; and “I like what they are doing.”
Results and Discussion
Path analyses were conducted to examine the mediating role of
sensation seeking between search for meaning and evaluation of
the violent activism group, controlling for the influence of gender.
The model was tested with AMOS (Arbuckle, 2007) using maxi-
mum likelihood estimation procedures. Four paths were specified:
one path from search for meaning to sensation seeking, one path
from sensation seeking to evaluation of the group, and two paths
from the control variable (gender) to the dependent variables (see
Figure 5a). We display means, standard deviations, and correla-
tions for all measures in Table 5. Results revealed that the hypoth-
esized model fits the data well,
2
(df 1, N234) 1.11, p
.29, GFI .99, CFI .99, IFI .99, RMSEA .02, AIC
19.11.
Table 4
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 4 (N 305)
Variable MSD23 4
Exp. condition
a
(1) 0.50 0.50 .11
.01 .01
Search for meaning (2) 4.08 1.76 .43
ⴱⴱ
.28
ⴱⴱ
Sensation seeking (3) 3.55 1.42 .54
ⴱⴱ
Support for violence (4) 2.93 1.43
a
0control, 1 search for meaning.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
Figure 4. Indirect effect of experimental condition on support for political violence via search for meaning and
sensation seeking (Study 4).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Experimental condition: 0 control, 1 search for meaning.
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8SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
Search for meaning predicted sensation seeking (␤⫽.24, p
.001), which in turn was positively associated with the evaluation
of the violent group (␤⫽.30, p.001). Bootstrapped confidence
interval estimates of the indirect effect (Preacher & Hayes, 2008)
were calculated to confirm the significance of mediation (␤⫽.07;
95% CI [.029, .129]). Gender was neither predictive of sensation
seeking (␤⫽⫺.08 p.21), nor of the evaluation of the group
(␤⫽⫺.04, p.54).
Study 5a extended our model to the evaluation of a real-life
violent activist group. Individuals that search for meaning in their
lives reported greater liking and support for a politically violent
group. As predicted this effect was mediated by sensation seeking.
One limitation of this study is that the sample was recruited on
MTurk. Thus, it is possible that participants lied about being
animal rights activist to make themselves eligible for participating
in the study.
Study 5b
The purpose of Study 5b was to replicate Study 5a with a sample
of animal rights activists recruited outside of MTurk and pre-
screened for their prior involvement in animal rights groups.
Method
Participants and design. Basing our sample size calculation
on the correlation obtained in Study 5a and setting power to .80,
the estimated sample size was 160. We used a panel service that
prescreened participants to be animal rights activist, that is, they
fulfilled selection criteria without knowing to make themselves
eligible for this study (e.g., having taken public action for animal
rights such as having attended animal rights marches and being a
member of an animal rights group). The final sample comprised
160 animal rights activists (87 women; M
age
48.26, SD
age
17.06).
Procedure and materials. We used the same procedure and
materials as in Study 5a.
Measures.
Search for meaning. We measured search for meaning using
the same items as in Study 5a (␣⫽.97; 1 Not agree at all,7
Very strongly agree).
Sensation seeking. We measured sensation seeking using the
same items (␣⫽.72) as in Study 5a (1 Not agree at all,7
Very strongly agree).
Evaluation of activist group. Participants’ evaluation of the
activist group was measured using the same items as in Study 5a
(␣⫽.97; 1 Not agree at all; 7Very strongly agree).
Results and Discussion
We tested the same path model as in Study 5a (see Figure 5b).
We display means, standard deviations, and correlations for all
measures in Table 5. Results revealed that the hypothesized model
fits the data well,
2
(df 1, N160) 2.17, p.14, GFI .99,
CFI .94, IFI .95, RMSEA .08, AIC 20.16.
Search for meaning predicted sensation seeking (␤⫽.23, p
.003), which in turn was positively associated with the evaluation
of the violent group (␤⫽.19, p.013). Bootstrapped confidence
interval estimates of the indirect effect (Preacher & Hayes, 2008)
were calculated to confirm the significance of mediation (␤⫽.04;
95% CI [.01, .11]). Gender was marginally related to sensation
Figure 5. (a) Indirect effect of search for meaning on the evaluation of a violent activist group through
sensation seeking, controlling for gender (Study 5a).
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Gender: 0 male, 1 female. (b) Indirect
effect of search for meaning on the evaluation of a violent activist group through sensation seeking, controlling
for gender (Study 5b).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Gender: 0 male, 1 female.
Table 5
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 5
Variable MSD 23 4
Study 5a (N234)
Search for meaning (1) 3.83 1.74 .23
ⴱⴱ
.13
.03
Sensation seeking (2) 3.27 1.28 .31
ⴱⴱ
.07
Group evaluation (3) 2.24 1.72 .06
Gender
a
(4) 0.53 0.50
Study 5b (N160)
Search for meaning (1) 4.24 1.86 .23
ⴱⴱ
.15 .02
Sensation seeking (2) 3.91 0.97 .21
.13
Group evaluation (3) 2.21 1.44 .20
Gender
a
(4) 0.54 0.50
a
0male; 1 female.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
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9
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
seeking (␤⫽⫺.14 p.08), and significantly related to the
evaluation of the violent group (␤⫽⫺.18, p.02).
Study 5b replicated Study 5a with another group of animal
rights activists, thereby adding external validity to our model.
Activists who searched for meaning in their lives reported greater
liking and support for a violent activist group and this effect was
mediated by sensation seeking. This begs the question of why
political violence is so alluring to individuals high in sensation
seeking. In line with previous research that linked sensation seek-
ing to a preference for a variety of exciting activities (e.g., Zuck-
erman, 1983), we hypothesized that high sensation seekers are
attracted by violent groups because they perceive them as exciting.
Study 6a
Study 6a was conducted to understand why some individuals
find violent groups so attractive. We hypothesized that the relation
between sensation seeking and the positive evaluation of violent
activist groups could be explained by the extent to which individ-
uals perceived the groups as exciting.
Method
Participants and design. Based on the correlations obtained
in previous studies and power set at .80, the estimated sample size
was 240 participants (the same estimate was obtained when as-
suming medium effect sizes). We recruited 245 participants (134
women; M
age
36.38, SD
age
12.37) via MTurk. The study
explicitly asked for animal rights activists.
Procedure and materials. We measured participants’ sensa-
tion seeking, their evaluation of a violent animal rights activism
group (same as in Study 5), as well as the extent to which they
perceived this group to be exciting and adventurous.
Measures.
Sensation seeking. We measured sensation seeking using the
same items (␣⫽.85) as in Study 5.
Excitement. We measured the extent to which participants
perceived the activist group as exciting and adventurous (“This
group seems to be exciting,” “This group seems adventurous”; ␳⫽
.71; 1 Not agree at all; 7Very strongly agree.).
Evaluation of activist group. We used the same items (␣⫽
.97) as in Study 5 to measure participants’ evaluation of the activist
group.
Results and Discussion
Path analyses were conducted to test the hypothesis that the
relationship between sensation seeking and support for violent
groups would be mediated by the extent to which individuals
perceived the group to be exciting and adventurous (controlling for
gender). The model was tested with AMOS (Arbuckle, 2007)
using maximum likelihood estimation procedure. Four paths were
specified: one path from sensation seeking to how exciting the
group was perceived, one path from the perceived excitement to
the evaluation of the group, and two paths from gender to the
dependent variables (see Figure 6a). We display means, standard
deviations, and correlations for all measures in Table 6. Results
revealed that the hypothesized model fits the data well,
2
(df 1,
N245) 3.47, p.06, GFI .99, CFI .97, IFI .98,
RMSEA .10, AIC 21.47 (Kenny, Kaniskan, & McCoach,
2015).
Sensation seeking predicted how exciting participants perceived
the activist group to be (␤⫽.22, p.001), which, in turn, was
positively associated with the evaluation of the group (␤⫽.52,
p.001). Results confirmed the mediating role of perceived
excitement between sensation seeking and the evaluation of the
activist group (␤⫽.12; 95% CI [.05, .19]). Gender was not related
to how exciting the group was perceived (␤⫽.07, p.26), but
to its overall evaluation (␤⫽⫺.11, p.046).
Results of Study 6a support the notion that violent groups are
liked by individuals high in sensation seeking because they per-
ceive those groups as exciting. Therefore, individuals high in
Figure 6. (a) Indirect effect of sensation seeking on the evaluation of a violent activist group through the extent
to which the group was perceived as exciting, controlling for gender (Study 6a).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Gender:
0male, 1 female. (b) Indirect effect of sensation seeking on the evaluation of a violent activist group
through the extent to which the group was perceived as exciting, controlling for gender (Study 6b).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001. Gender: 0 male, 1 female.
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10 SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
sensation seeking can be considered more at risk of joining polit-
ical violent groups. In the next study, we aimed at replicating this
relationship in another sample of animal rights activists.
Study 6b
Study 6b was conducted to replicate the relations found in Study
6a in a sample of animal rights activists recruited outside of Mturk
and prescreened for their prior involvement in animal rights
groups. We hypothesized that activists high in sensation seeking
would find the violent activists group more exciting and hence
evaluate it more favorably.
Method
Participants and design. Based on the results of Study 6a, the
estimated sample size with .80 power was 174 participants. We
recruited 174 animal rights activists via a panel service (89 wom-
en; M
age
52.26, SD
age
17.93). As in Study 5b, participants
were prescreened to be animal rights activist, that is, they fulfilled
selection criteria without knowing to make themselves eligible for
this study.
Procedure and materials. We used the same procedure and
materials as in Study 6a.
Measures.
Sensation seeking. We used the same items (␣⫽.88) as in
Study 6a.
Excitement. We used the same items (␳⫽.95) as in Study 6a.
Evaluation of activist group. We used the same items (␣⫽
.97) as in Study 6a.
Results and Discussion
We tested the same path model as in Study 6a (see Figure 6b).
We display means, standard deviations, and correlations for all
measures in Table 6. Results revealed that the hypothesized model
had a good fit,
2
(df 1, N174) .12, p.72, GFI 1.00,
CFI 1.00, IFI 1.00, RMSEA .00, AIC 18.12.
Sensation seeking predicted how exciting participants perceived
the activist group to be (␤⫽.33, p.001), which, in turn, was
positively associated with the evaluation of the group (␤⫽.88,
p.001). Results confirmed the mediating role of perceived
excitement between sensation seeking and the evaluation of the
activist group (␤⫽.29; 95% CI [.15, .42]). Gender was not related
to how exciting the group was perceived (␤⫽⫺.09, p.22), but
to its overall evaluation (␤⫽⫺.08, p.01).
Again, results of Study 6b support the notion that violent activ-
ists groups are liked by activists high in sensation seeking because
they perceive those groups to be exciting. This is of high relevance
to the present research, because it adds to the body of knowledge
crucial for the creation of effective antiviolence campaigns. In
the next study, we tested an intervention that applied this new
knowledge to reduce support for political violence in an at-risk
population, that is, individuals high in sensation seeking.
Study 7
Study 7 tested an intervention to reduce political violence by
providing participants with an alternative means to fulfill their
need for excitement. If the pursuit of excitement is what drives
sensation seekers to support violent groups, it follows that provid-
ing an alternative means that is functionally equivalent should
quell their desire to support violent groups. Thus, we hypothesized
that presenting participants with an exciting, yet peaceful, activist
group (vs. an unexciting one) would lower their support for polit-
ical violence, which in turn would reduce support for a violent
activists group.
Method
Participants and design. Based on pilot testing, we estimated
the required sample size to be 392 participants with power set to
.80. We recruited 392 participants (95 women; M
age
36.24,
SD
age
11.27) via MTurk. The study explicitly asked for animal
right activists.
Procedure and materials. Participants were randomly as-
signed to one of two experimental conditions. They were either
presented with an unexciting or exciting peaceful animal rights
activist group to further their cause. The unexciting group was
described as using formal statements, such as signed public state-
ments, letters of opposition, or pamphlets. Furthermore, they en-
gaged in nonconsumption of boycotted goods, withdrawal from
government educational institutions, sit-downs, or pray-ins. The
exciting activist group was described as using the methods of
public assemblies, such as performances of plays and music. They
also engaged in marches, parades, humorous skits and pranks,
speeches advocating resistance, and refused to disperse assem-
blages.
2
After being presented with one of the two groups, participants
were asked to fill out a series of questionnaires. We measured how
exciting they perceived the activist group to be, their level of
sensation seeking, their support for political violence, as well as
2
The methods that were used to describe the group as exciting (versus
unexciting) were pretested. We asked 50 participants on MTurk to rate the
extent to which they perceived the methods of nonviolent political action
(taken from Sharp, 1973) as exciting. As a result, characteristics in the
unexciting activist group (M2.77, SD 1.17) were perceived as less
exciting than characteristics in the exciting group (M4.02, SD 1.29;
F(1, 49) 111.38, p.001,
2
.69).
Table 6
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 6
Variable MSD 23 4
Study 6a (N245)
Sensation seeking (1) 3.36 1.29 .21
ⴱⴱ
.22
ⴱⴱ
.15
Exciting (2) 3.59 1.78 .52
ⴱⴱ
.04
Group evaluation (3) 2.03 1.63 .09
Gender
a
(4) 0.55 0.50
Study 6b (N174)
Sensation seeking (1) 3.15 1.37 .35
ⴱⴱ
.31
ⴱⴱ
.22
Exciting (2) 3.03 2.03 .90
ⴱⴱ
.16
Group evaluation (3) 2.87 2.02 .23
ⴱⴱ
Gender
a
(4) 0.51 0.50
a
0male; 1 female.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
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11
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
their support for the violent activist group (same group as used in
Studies 5 and 6).
Measures.
Exciting. We used the same items as in Study 6 to measure the
extent to which participants perceived the presented activists group
as exciting and adventurous (␳⫽.93).
Sensation seeking. We used the same measure (␣⫽.89) as in
Study 1.
Support for political violence. We used the same measure
(␣⫽.96; 1 Not agree at all; 7Very strongly agree”) as in
Study 1.
Evaluation of activist group. We used the same items (␣⫽
.98) as in Study 6 to measure participants’ evaluation of the violent
activist group.
Results and Discussion
First, we conducted a manipulation check on how exciting the
activist groups were perceived. As expected, the exciting group
(M5.17, SD 1.27) was perceived as more exciting than the
unexciting group (M4.41, SD 1.71; F(1, 390) 25.05, p
.001,
2
.06). Next, we tested the interactive effect of sensation
seeking and the experimental condition on support for political
violence via willingness to self-sacrifice. Five paths were speci-
fied: one from sensation seeking to support for political violence,
one from sensation seeking to evaluation of the violent activist
group, one from experimental condition (coded 0 unexciting
activist group, 1 exciting activist group) to support for political
violence, one path from the interaction term to support for vio-
lence, and one path from support for violence to the evaluation of
the violent activist group (see Figure 7). We display means,
standard deviations, and correlations for all measures in Table 7.
In line with Aiken and West’s (1991) procedures, independent
variables were standardized before calculating the interaction
products. We tested the interaction (Sensation seeking Experi-
mental condition) on support for political violence using hierar-
chical multiple regression analyses to test the a-path of this model.
We entered sensation seeking and experimental condition in Step
1, as well as the interaction term in Step 2. Step 1 explained a
significant amount of variance, F(2, 389) 91.00, p.001,
R
2
.32. Experimental condition (␤⫽⫺.03, p.44) was
unrelated to support for political violence but sensation seeking
was (␤⫽.56, p.001). The addition of the interaction term in
Step 2 further increased explained variance significantly, F(1,
388) 5.91, p.02, R
2
.01. Experimental condition
(␤⫽⫺.03, p.44) was unrelated to support for political violence
but sensation seeking was (␤⫽.56, p.001). The interactive
effect of sensation seeking and experimental condition was pre-
dictive of support for political violence (␤⫽⫺.10, p.02; see
Table 8).
To probe the nature of the interaction, we computed the condi-
tional effects of experimental condition on support for political
violence for low (1 SD below the mean) versus high (1 SD above
the mean) levels of sensation seeking. Results showed that the
effect was significant for high levels of sensation seeking
(␤⫽⫺.03, 95% CI [.05, .01], t(388) ⫽⫺2.27, p.02), but
not for low levels of sensation seeking (␤⫽.01, 95% CI [.01,
.04], t(388) 1.17, p.24; see Figure 8). Lastly, we tested the
b-path in the model. Results indicated that the association between
support for political violence and the evaluation of the violent
activist group was significant (␤⫽.57, p.001).
The hypothesized model had the following fit indices:
2
(df
3, N392) .15, p.93, GFI 1.00, CFI 1.00, IFI 1.00,
RMSEA .00, AIC 26.15. We calculated bootstrapped confi-
dence interval estimates of the indirect effect (Preacher & Hayes,
2008). Results confirmed the mediating role of willingness to
self-sacrifice between the predicting variables and support for
political violence (␤⫽⫺.06; 95% CI [.11, .01]). Overall,
Study 7 tested a sensation seeking targeting intervention that
successfully reduced support for political violence in individuals
Table 7
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Involving
Variables From Study 7 (N 392)
Variable MSD 23 4
Exp. condition
a
(1) 0.49 0.50 .06 .07 .06
Sensation seeking (2) 4.22 1.50 .56
ⴱⴱ
.44
ⴱⴱ
Support for violence (3) 3.08 1.46 .64
ⴱⴱ
Group evaluation (4) 2.95 2.03
a
0unexciting peaceful activist group; 1 exciting peaceful activist
group.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
Figure 7. Interactive effect of sensation seeking and experimental condition (unexciting vs. exciting activist
group) on the evaluation of a violent activist group via support for political violence (Study 7).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p
.001.
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12 SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
high in sensation seeking by presenting an exciting—yet peace-
ful—alternative to a violent activist group.
General Discussion
The needs for adventure and significance have often been in-
voked to explain people’s adherence to politically violent groups
(Atran, 2014; Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheveland, et al.,
2014; Nussio, 2017). Whereas substantial evidence has been ac-
cumulated to demonstrate the role of significance in political
violence (e.g., Bélanger, 2013; Dugas et al., 2016; Webber, Klein,
Kruglanski, Brizi, & Merari, 2017), empirical research has thus far
been silent regarding the notion of excitement and adventure—a
peculiar observation given that sensation seeking has been a pri-
mary suspect for many years (e.g., Kruglanski & Fishman, 2006).
Dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service (2015) even published a report urging scholars
to clarify the role of sensation seeking in political violence. In
response to this call for research and the pressing need to prevent
political violence, we conducted seven studies integrating sensa-
tion seeking to SQT.
In Study 1, we demonstrated that the effect of search for
meaning on willingness to self-sacrifice and support for political
violence was mediated by sensation seeking. In Study 2, we tested
our model using a longitudinal design: search for meaning posi-
tively predicted sensation seeking, which, in turn, prospectively
predicted support for political violence three months later. In
Studies 3 and 4, experimentally manipulating search for meaning
in life altered participants’ sensation seeking, which then impacted
their support for political violence. Demonstrating the real-world
relevance of our theorizing, Studies 5a and 5b found that sensation
seeking was positively related to supporting a violent activist
group. In Studies 6a and 6b, we found that this relationship was
explained by how exciting the group was perceived. Building on
this evidence, we posited that rechanneling this desire for exciting
experiences toward a peaceful objective would be possible. Ac-
cordingly, in Study 7 we presented activists with an exciting (vs.
unexciting), yet peaceful, alternative group, and successfully low-
ered support for political violence among high (vs. low) sensation
seekers. Taken together, our findings indicate that the need for
novel and exciting experiences fuels people’s interest in political
violence, but it can also be rechanneled toward peaceful political
movements that are engaging and exciting.
Theoretical Implications
The significance quest theory. The SQT posits that the loss
of significance prompts individuals to search and find “the appro-
priate means to significance” (Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger,
Sheveland, et al., 2014, p. 74). The main contribution of this work
consists of providing a fuller account of how this search unfolds by
(a) examining a psychological mechanism involved in the search
for meaning and (b) identifying the types of means that are
preferred to fulfill that quest. Specifically, our results indicate that
to restore their significance, people pay increased attention to
novel and exciting experiences—they become sensation seekers
and thus, increasingly allured to extreme behaviors (self-sacrifice
and violence) and to groups that carry out such activities. These
results empirically substantiate Wiktorowicz’s (2005) concept of
cognitive opening, whereby people seek novel and stimulating
experiences in times of personal crisis and thus, become more
receptive to alternative worldviews and extreme ideologies. More-
over, our theorizing and findings are in line with Lewin’s force
field theory (1947), in which he describes that individuals unfreeze
when important needs, such as the need for a meaningful exis-
tence, are thwarted. They start to “scan,” that is, they search for
novel ideas and experiences to find a solution (Schein, 1996).
When they find an answer, people refreeze, which can be reflected
in attitude change (Lewin, 1947; Zand & Sorensen, 1975). In the
context of violent extremism, this seizing and freezing can come in
the form of accepting extremist ideologies or joining extremist
groups that provide the certainty or opportunity for significance
restoration that individuals were looking for (Webber et al., 2018).
The process of radicalization triggered by significance loss can be
understood as the opening to new and extreme ideas and ideolo-
gies, which is then followed by a closing of the mind and freezing
on the extremist beliefs.
Contrary to what is generally understood from the relationship
between sensation seeking and aggression, the need for excitement
and thrill does not necessarily “doom” one to adhere to hostile
belief systems. Indeed, as shown in Study 7, the relationship
between sensation seeking and support for political violence can
be reversed when a peaceful and exciting alternative is made
accessible. Under such circumstances, violence is no longer the
only means available to experience stimulating sensations and thus
loses its appeal among high sensation seekers. Therefore, contrary
to generally held beliefs, our research demonstrates that sensation
Table 8
Results of Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting Support
for Political Violence From Sensation Seeking and Experimental
Condition in Study 7 (N 392)
Step FR
2
R
2
Sensation
seeking Exp. cond. Sensation seeking
Exp. cond.
Step 1 91.00
ⴱⴱ
.32 .32 .56
ⴱⴱ
.03 —
Step 2 5.91
.33 .01 .56
ⴱⴱ
.03 .10
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.001.
Figure 8. Interaction between sensation seeking and experimental con-
dition (unexciting vs. exciting activist group) on support for political
violence (Study 7).
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13
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
seeking is not inevitably associated with support for political
violence, it can be redirected toward prosocial and constructive
activities. These findings substantiate the SQT’s proposition that
when the significance quest is activated “whether a prosocial or
antisocial behavior is enacted should depend on the ideology that
identifies the means to significance” (Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bé-
langer, Sheveland, et al., 2014, p. 79). This idea connects well with
Katz’s (1960) notion that attitudes have a function—they are
means to psychological goals. In the present case, supporting
extreme forms of activism (i.e., self-sacrifice and support for
political violence) provides the stimulation and excitement that
appear relevant to living a meaningful existence. However, as our
research shows, extreme behaviors can be substituted with means
that are functionally equivalent such as other exciting peaceful
activities or groups.
Taken together, although scholars have mentioned the “need for
adventure and significance” in the same breath (as if they were
additive factors) to describe the motivational determinants of po-
litical extremism, in the present research, we articulated and ad-
duced empirical evidence for a model that unpacks this proposition
and demonstrate how these components are interrelated and part of
a motivational process. Consequently, the present research builds
on the SQT (e.g., Dugas et al., 2016; Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bé-
langer, Sheveland, et al., 2014) by (a) shedding light on a psycho-
logical mechanism that connects the search for meaning to extrem-
ism (i.e., self-sacrifice and support for political violence) and (b)
underscoring how to redirect the quest for significance to reduce
support for political violence. Of note, the current findings dem-
onstrate only one out of several possible mechanisms that link the
quest for significance to extreme outcomes (see Webber & Krug-
lanski, 2016). For instance, some individuals rather choose to
restore their feelings of significance through personal and profes-
sional achievements.
Sensation seeking theory. The present research also contrib-
utes to the literature on sensation seeking in many ways. Indeed,
although sensation seeking has been linked to aggressive behavior
(Wilson & Scarpa, 2011), this is, to our knowledge, the first
research demonstrating empirically the link between sensation
seeking and political violence. This is noteworthy, as the scientific
literature has put much emphasis on the relationship between
sensation seeking and reactive, that is, more impulsive forms of
violent behavior (e.g., criminal behavior or reckless driving; Brad-
ley & Wildman, 2002; Horvath & Zuckerman, 1993; Jonah, 1997).
However, the present research demonstrates that it also relates to
violent behaviors connected to a greater ideological purpose.
Therefore, our research corroborates recent findings that sensation
seeking is not only related to reactive, but also proactive (i.e.,
planned) forms of aggressive behaviors (Cui, Colasante, Malti,
Ribeaud, & Eisner, 2016; Pérez Fuentes, Molero Jurado, Carrión
Martínez, Mercader Rubio, & Gázquez, 2016). Reactive and pro-
active forms of aggression (e.g., Dodge & Coie, 1987) operate
differently: whereas reactive aggression is often an impulsive and
emotional reaction to provocation, proactive aggression is delib-
erate and goal-directed. Hence, as shown in Study 7, interventions
that provide substitute means (i.e., exciting and peaceful groups) to
reorient behavior toward a similar goal can be effective and, in this
case, mitigate support for violence.
Another contribution of this work is that, although sensation
seeking gradually changes over the life span, it is usually under-
stood as a fairly stable biologically based personality trait (Zuck-
erman, 1974, 2007). The present research does not contend against
the latter proposition but enriches it by providing additional evi-
dence that there is room for momentary fluctuations in sensation
seeking following short-lived experimental inductions (see also
Fischer, Kastenmüller, & Asal, 2012; Gamble & Walker, 2016;
Petrocelli, Martin, & Li, 2010), as adaptation to situational de-
mands (Lynne-Landsman, Graber, Nichols, & Botvin, 2011; Par-
mak, Euwema, & Mylle, 2012), or as a result of intervention
programs (e.g., Burnette et al., 2004). This was especially apparent
in Studies 3 and 4 when after recalling events that either increased
or decreased individuals’ search for meaning, their desire for novel
and stimulating experiences changed respectively. This evidence is
consistent with Higgins’ (2008) theoretical and empirically vali-
dated proposition that the concept of personality is simply “one
source of variability in the functioning of psychological principles
that also varies across momentary situations” (p. 612), which
suggests that psychological constructs can be alternatively opera-
tionalized either as individual differences or as expressions of
situational forces (e.g., Duggan, 2004; Kruglanski & Sheveland,
2012; Sturaro, Denissen, van Aken, & Asendorpf, 2008). It follows
that our research demonstrates that sensation seeking is not simply
a drive dictated by biological imperatives—it is also goal-driven as
it steers individuals to explore and engage in novel activities in the
pursuit of feeling significant. In this light, sensation seeking goes
beyond wanting to experience a tingle to the spine; it can be
understood as a self-regulatory mechanism triggered by the loss of
significance. Therefore, the present research suggests that sensa-
tion seeking behaviors are not always the result of poor self-
regulation (see also Taylor & Hamilton, 1997); quite the contrary,
they can reflect people’s ability to respond to the ongoing demands
of experience in search of a meaningful existence.
Practical Implications
Our findings also bear important practical implications for
community-based organizations (e.g., Germany’s Hayat program,
Montreal’s Center for the Prevention of Radicalization leading to
Violence, Denmark’s Aarhus program) whose purpose is to pre-
vent and counter violent extremism by engaging individuals with
strong political convictions spanning the full ideological spectrum
(e.g., left- and right-wing extremism, eco-extremism, radical Is-
lam, etc.).
Detecting extremism. Chief among the challenges that prac-
titioners (e.g., social workers, psychologists) working for these
organizations face, is identifying individuals that might be at risk
of adhering to political violence so that preemptive efforts can be
conducted to prevent their radicalization. The present research
suggests being especially attentive to individuals that might be (a)
in search for meaning and (b) display a proclivity for novel and
intense experiences. Concretely, this means recognizing (a) per-
sonal situations that may increase one’s likelihood of experiencing
significance loss such as humiliation, disempowerment, and social
stigmatization (Bélanger, 2013; Dugas et al., 2016; Webber, Klein,
Kruglanski, Brizi, & Merari, 2017) and (b) individuals who tend to
be nonconformists and engage in behavior involving risk—two
common indicators associated with high sensation seeking (Ang &
Woo, 2003; Arnaut, 2006; Zuckerman, Bone, Neary, Mangels-
dorff, & Brustman, 1972). Noting these telltale signs early on
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14 SCHUMPE, BÉLANGER, MOYANO, AND NISA
might be necessary for effective and timely prevention initiatives
to steer people away from politically violent groups.
Countermessaging strategies. This raises the question of
what these initiatives should be to prevent individuals’ adherence
to political violence. In recent years, one burgeoning field of
initiatives has been countermessaging initiatives (also known as
counternarratives) to fight for the “hearts and minds” of potential
recruits for extremism. These initiatives typically consist of media
campaigns on social media platforms aimed at tarnishing the brand
of politically violent groups and their militant ideology to dissuade
those that might be interested in joining their ranks.
Despite the widespread use of countermessaging by govern-
ments, NGOs, and grass-root movements (e.g., student-groups),
one of the main issues concerning this approach is the absence of
evidence supporting its effectiveness (see Davies, Neudecker,
Ouellet, Bouchard, & Ducol, 2016; Ferguson, 2016; Hemmingsen
& Castro, 2017). For the most part, this is attributable to the
infancy of countermessaging as it relates to violent extremism—
although the effectiveness of public-service- announcements
(PSAs) on other sensitive topics (e.g., alcohol abuse, tobacco,
unprotected sex) has also been widely debated (for meta-analyses
see Derzon & Lipsey, 2002; Jepson, Harris, Platt, & Tannahill,
2010; Yadav & Kobayashi, 2015; Werb et al., 2011). In addition to
this issue, a great concern is that most campaigns against political
violence contain graphically violent scenes involving torture, ex-
ecutions, and corpses. For example, in the countermessage cam-
paign “Think again, turn away” launched by the United States
Department of State, the viewers are exposed to blown-up mosques,
suicide bombing, and other wanton acts of cruelty (Labott, 2014).
This is troubling because this is the type of visual content that is
highly attractive to sensation seekers (Zaleski, 1984; Zuckerman &
Litle, 1986). Given the appeal of violent content to high sensation
seekers, it is likely that the very messages aimed to deter young
men from joining militant groups are the very messages that attract
them. What the present research indicates is that if these coun-
termessages are to be successful in decreasing support for political
violence, it is mission critical to include peaceful and stimulating
alternative social movements to get sensation seekers excited
about prosocial (vs. violent) political causes. Merely imploring the
viewers not to join these groups, to “say no to violence,” might
create psychological reactance (Brehm, 1966) and even elicit more
destructive behaviors, especially if individuals already hold strong
positive attitudes toward these groups, in which case other initia-
tives to counter violent extremism might be necessary.
Countering extremism. Over the years, a slew of initiatives
has been proposed to help people disengage from politically vio-
lent groups. These typically include initiatives such as mentoring,
creative arts, vocational training and sports (for a review see
Koehler, 2016). However, as pointed out by some of the leading
experts in the field, our understanding of the causal processes of
disengagement from violent extremism remains speculative (Gill,
Bouhana, & Morrison, 2015). This is attributable to (a) a general
lack of theoretically grounded research in the field of counterradi-
calization and (b) the lack of evaluation to examine the impact of
intervention methods to prevent or counter extremism (Horgan &
Braddock, 2010). Deradicalization, Koehler (2016) notes, “re-
mains one of the most underresearched fields, which is even more
surprising, as the connection to successful counter-terrorism, peace-
keeping, and counter-radicalization policies is obvious” (p. 290).
The research herein described contributes to this inchoate literature
by providing “proof of concept” for a theory of change to reduce
support for political violence—a working model that spells out the
causal pathway to political violence for which interventions can
be devised to truncate that process. Precisely, our research indi-
cates that interventions to counter violent extremism should be
geared either toward (a) helping individuals construct a meaning-
ful personal narrative to quell the quest for significance or (b)
redirecting their desire for thrilling sensations toward exciting
prosocial groups (e.g., the Peace Corps or other NGOs conducting
humanitarian work abroad, etc.). Clearly, more research is needed
to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs and examine for
whom these interventions are most effective.
Conclusion
The present research extends recent work on Significance Quest
Theory (Dugas et al., 2016; Kruglanski, Gelfand, Bélanger, Sheve-
land, et al., 2014) by demonstrating that sensation seeking is one
psychological mechanism linking people’s search for meaning to
supporting extreme behaviors (e.g., support for political violence).
When individuals search for meaning, they look for novel and
intense experiences, thereby making them more likely to adhere to
violent ideologies or groups.
Understanding these principles, we developed and successfully
tested two interventions to thwart the radicalization process,
namely (a) reducing people’s search for meaning by guiding them
to reflect on their personal, significance-providing, legacy and (b)
providing an exciting—yet peaceful—alternative group that satis-
fies their need for exciting sensations. Both approaches are rele-
vant to prevention and intervention efforts to mitigate support for
political violence.
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Accepted August 27, 2018
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19
SENSATION SEEKING IN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
... Relatedly, another factor that may enhance susceptibility to extremism following exclusion are individual differences in sensation and risk seeking. Because extreme behavior can be a thrilling adventure, people high in sensation seeking may be particularly susceptible to the allure of radicalism (Schumpe et al., 2020). Thus, they may see it as an especially appealing way to satisfy their thwarted needs following social exclusion. ...
Article
Full-text available
In recent years, researchers of various disciplines have developed many theories to understand the radicalization process. One key factor that may promote radicalization is social exclusion, the state of being kept apart from others. Indeed, experimental studies have provided initial evidence for a relation between exclusion and radicalism. The current review outlines and builds upon these research programs, arguing that social exclusion has been shown (a) to increase the willingness to fight-and-die, (b) to promote the approval for extreme, even violent, political parties and actions, and (c) to push the willingness to engage in illegal and violent action for a political cause. We close with an agenda for future research and critically discuss implications of this work for social policy.
... The vast majority of studies (n = 118; 93%) applied a cross-sectional survey design in comparison to 9 studies (7%) employing an experimental design. Feddes et al. (2015) and Schumpe et al. (2020) were the only ones who conducted a longitudinal study, which constitutes only 2% of all studies . applied repeated cross-sectional linear-mixed effects models (Rousseau, Miconi, Frounfelker, Hassan, & Oulhote, 2020). ...
Thesis
Progress within the field of radicalisation is evident. Yet while research increasingly adopts a quantitative approach to studying radicalisation processes, there is no sound empirical evidence base on the risk and protective factors for violent extremism and much research is not fit for practice. Day-to-day risk assessment and management of individuals deemed to be a potential risk to national security forms a core component of counter-terrorism. Each phase of counter-terrorism risk assessment and management requires state-of-the-art science for the identification of putative risk and protective factors, and to understand how such factors are functionally linked to violent extremism. This thesis provides a unique contribution to these research endeavours in several important ways. First, in order to explain why individuals radicalise, we have to turn our focus towards those risk factors and underlying mechanisms, which explain why and how certain individuals come to develop extremist propensities. Thus, this thesis’ main aim is to study risk and protective factors for the development of violent extremist propensities. Second, terrorism studies is over-reliant on secondary data. By conducting two unique large-scale nationally representative general population surveys, this thesis contributes towards establishing a robust empirical knowledge base. These are one of the first such surveys conducted within the field of violent extremism research. Third, radicalisation trajectories and engagement in violent extremism are characterised by complex constellations of risk as well as protective factors. Risk factors for one risk specification may not equally apply to others and the conditional and contextual nature of various factors need to be taken into consideration, which necessitates more complex analyses of patterns of relationships. This thesis draws on a range of structural equation models, conditional mediation models and interaction analyses, which allow for a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and complex configurations of various risk and protective factors. The analytical designs embedded throughout this thesis are some of the first to test such interactions in an empirical manner. Fourth, this thesis uses an integrative framework which examines not just risk but also protective factors for violent extremism and draws on a wide range of validated theories from different disciplines to strengthen the explanation of relationships between factors. By utilising models with several risk/protective factors, this thesis overcomes some of the 'problem of specificity', as it delivers plausible answers as to why the vast majority of individuals, who are experiencing particular conditions or grievances do not develop violent extremist intentions. Such research designs may be able to identify those factors that can inform prevention and intervention programs. Fifth, radicalisation is a complex and multifaceted process with diverse pathways and outcomes to it. This inherent complexity renders radicalisation, as a construct, difficult to operationalise. A key part of conducting quantitative research is the development of adequate and validated instruments. Thus, by developing and validating psychometrically sound instruments, this thesis contributes towards rigorous quantitative research on violent extremism. This thesis addresses these issues through a number of novel research designs. First, I conduct a systematic review and synthesise the existing evidence on quantitative risk and protective factors for different radicalisation outcomes. However, several gaps as well as conceptual and methodological issues are identified, which are addressed in the following chapters. Second, I conduct a German nationally representative survey on violent extremism, and I apply structural equation modeling to employ a conceptually integrated approach to studying the individual and environmental-level determinants of differential vulnerability to extremism. The findings demonstrate the profound effect of person-environment reciprocity and, thereby, highlight key individual, developmental and social mechanisms involved in the development of extremist propensities. Increasingly, we are witnessing a seeming convergence between belief in conspiracy theories and ideological extremes. However, there is a dearth of empirical research on the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and violent extremism. Therefore, third, this thesis conducts a unique quantitative analysis on this relationship and the findings highlight the contingent effects of risk and protective factors, which are defined as ‘interactive’ or ‘buffering’ protective factors. This has major implications in regard to prevention strategies of ‘at-risk’ populations. Fourth, based on a large-scale UK nationally representative survey, I develop and validate a novel psychometric tool to measure individuals’ misogynistic attitudes. Fifth, recent incidents have demonstrated that misogynistic beliefs can lead to acts of mass violence. This thesis provides the first survey-based study on the relationship between misogyny and violent extremism by examining the underlying mechanisms and contingent effects linking misogyny to (extremist) violence. Collectively, the dissertation’s results demonstrate that multiple factors likely contribute to individual pathways into violent extremism. No single risk or protective factor exists that can explain its genesis. This has significant implications for practice and policy. Preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) programs must take account of the constellation of multiple factors that interact with (and sometimes enable or disable one another) rather than solely focusing upon single risk factors. These findings stress the need to implement evidenced based prevention and interventions programs, which have to address these risk factors early on, before they properly take hold and become so deeply ingrained that they are almost intractable. Therefore, increased focus of P/CVE interventions should be put on the indirect, long-term and life-course oriented protective factors.
... The 8-item Brief Sensation Seeking Scale was administered to assess sensation seeking (e.g., "I would like to explore strange places"). 106,107 The responses were anchored on 7-point scales from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree; α = 0·828). General Self-Efficacy. ...
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Background Transformative utopian impulse for planetary health is people's propensity to have thoughts and engage in actions of which the purpose is to transform the current society into a better one in the future by addressing existing global issues. We aimed to develop a well-validated scale that can measure the transformative utopian impulse for planetary health and uncover its role in societal transformation. Methods We developed a scale to measure the transformative utopian impulse for planetary health across 11 studies with 6248 participants from the USA (from the MTurk database) and the UK (from the Prolifico.co database). Participants were eligible take part in the studies if they completed the consent form. Participants who did not pass the seriousness check or did not accurately answer all instructed response items were excluded from statistical analyses. We used exploratory factor analyses (EFA) and confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) to determine the factor structure of the Transformative Utopian Impulse for Planetary Health Scale (TUIPHS). Then we analysed the TUIPHS’ nomological network (ie, the relationships between TUIPHS and various constructs ranging from personality traits and values to economic, social, and political attitudes and beliefs). We then examined the scale's incremental predictive validity by testing whether it predicts various attitudes and behaviours relevant to social change beyond scales that measure competing constructs (this part of the study is registered at OSF Registries [https://osf.io/ztj2f]). Finally, we examined the TUIPHS’ longitudinal predictive validity by probing whether it predicts people's future support for social change. Findings Data were collected between Oct 8, 2018, and July 6, 2020. We established that TUIPHS has a four-factor structure and can also be scored as a single general factor, indicating that it captures an overarching theoretical construct (ie, the transformative utopian impulse for planetary health). We then showed that the scale is related to various specific individual difference measures that capture diverse aspects of people's propensity to actively engage in thoughts and actions oriented toward the betterment of society. Moreover, TUIPHS predicted, above and beyond 20 competing scales highly correlated (r ≥0·50) with it, a series of 19 self-reported behavioural and attitudinal constructs pertaining to social change. Finally, participants’ past TUIPHS scores predicted their support, a few months later, for social movements that aim to build a more just and resilient society than in the current day. Interpretation This research lays the groundwork for future theoretical and empirical research into the psychological and behavioural processes attached to the transformative utopian impulse for planetary health as a source of transformative social change toward a better way of being and living. Funding The London School of Economics and Political Science.
... Hence it follows that thrill-seeking may be an important risk factor for exposure. Schumpe et al. (2020) conducted a series of studies to empirically test the role thrillseeking in political violence, in the context of Significance Quest Theory. Over seven studies, the authors found a positive effect of thrill-seeking on support for political violence. ...
... Hence it follows that thrill-seeking may be an important risk factor for exposure. Schumpe et al. (2020) conducted a series of studies to empirically test the role thrillseeking in political violence, in the context of Significance Quest Theory. Over seven studies, the authors found a positive effect of thrill-seeking on support for political violence. ...
Article
Full-text available
A public health approach to countering the threat from extremism aims to manage vulnerability before behaviour escalates to require involvement from the criminal justice system. Fundamental to applying a public health approach is understanding how risk (and protective) factors can be modified, in other words, the functional roles of these factors. To unpack the functional roles of risk factors, a more dynamic approach to modelling the complex relationships between factors is needed. In the present study we surveyed a representative sample of the UK general population (n = 1500) where participants self-reported risk factors and indicators for vulnerability to radicalisation. Operationalising analytical guidance from a Risk Analysis Framework (RAF), we applied psychometric network modelling to visualise the relationships among risk factors relating to individual-level propensities, situational influences, and exposure to extremism-enabling environments. We present our results as a series of network graphs and discuss (a) how risk factors ‘cluster’ or ‘co-occur’, (b) the most influential risk factors which may be important for intervention and prevention, and (c) ‘risk pathways’ which suggest potential putative risk and/or protective factors. We present our findings as evidence for a public health approach to countering the threat from extremism.
... More recently, quantitative research extended this link to the explanation of violent extremism with a predominant focus on the aspect of thrill-seeking, risk-taking and impulsivity (Grasmick et al., 1993;Pauwels and De Waele, 2014;. Survey studies corroborate that a poor ability to execute self-control is significantly correlated with exposure to extremist settings and self-reported violent extremist attitudes and behavior, irrespective of ideology (Pauwels and Hardyns, 2018;Schumpe et al., 2020). Qualitative research analyzing right-wing extremist groups, also highlighted the importance of thrill-seeking and risk-taking as key determinants in explaining involvement in extremism and violence committed by far-right extremists (see for example Bjørgo, 2002;Bouhana et al., 2018;Lakhani and Hardie-Bick, 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
Numerous studies argue that perceived group deprivation is a risk factor for radicalization and violent extremism. Yet, the vast majority of individuals, who experience such circumstances do not become radicalized. By utilizing models with several interacting risk and protective factors, the present analysis specifies this relationship more concretely. In a large United Kingdom nationally representative survey ( n = 1,500), we examine the effects of group-based relative deprivation on violent extremist attitudes and violent extremist intentions, and we test whether this relationship is contingent upon several individual differences in personality. The results show that stronger group-based injustices lead to increased support for and intentions to engage in violent extremism. However, some of the effects are much stronger for individuals who exhibit a stronger need for uniqueness and for status and who demonstrate higher levels of trait entitlement. Conversely, several effects are lessened for those individuals high in trait forgiveness, demonstrating a strong capacity for self-control and for those who are exerting critical as well as open-minded thinking styles, thus constituting buffering protective factors, which dampen the adverse effects of perceived group injustice on violent extremism. The results highlight the importance of considering (a) the interaction between individual dispositions and perceptions of contextual factors (b) the conditional and cumulative effects of various risk and protective factors and (c) the functional role of protective factors when risk factors are present. Collectively, these findings bring us one step closer to understanding who might be more vulnerable to violent extremism as well as how. Overall, the study suggests that preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) programs must take account of the constellation of multiple factors that interact with (and sometimes enable or disable) one another and which can be targeted in preventions strategies.
... Empirical support for significance quest theory has been obtained in diverse settings (Dugas et al., 2016;Jasko et al., 2019;Lyons-Padilla et al., 2015;Schumpe et al., 2020;Webber et al., 2018). However, although past research on radicalism used diverse methodologies such as qualitative and cross-sectional data, there is no study tracking radicalism over an extended period of time using behavioral measures. ...
Article
Although political radicalism is one of the major societal threats, we have limited understanding of how it is formed. While there are reasons to expect that harassment experienced in adolescence increase the propensity for radicalism, this relationship has not yet been investigated. This five-wave study of Swedish adolescents ( N = 892) examined the role of peer harassment in radical political behavior. The results revealed that within-person fluctuations in harassment were positively related to fluctuations in radicalism. Individual-level (but not class-level) harassment also predicted differences between adolescents: youth who experienced more harassment had higher levels of and a more pronounced decrease in radicalism. In addition, adolescents who had more supportive teachers or parents were less affected by harassment than youth with less-supportive adults. The findings suggest that personal experiences of harassment increase the risk of radicalism but supportive relationships can mitigate their negative consequences.
... En este sentido, estos grupos tomarían a su favor la existencia de condiciones de exclusión social de otras personas ) para potenciar sus creencias, dada la importancia de estas en la generación de un comportamiento político radical. Además de estas condiciones, la pertenencia a estos grupos generaría en los sujetos que mantienen estas creencias ciertas sensaciones y/o emociones que nutrirían comportamientos políticos violentos (Schumpe et al. 2020). ...
Article
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This article investigates the role of positive and negative group emotions of Chileans in the territorial conflict between Chile and Bolivia, in which the latter claims access to the sea. Two studies were conducted: one following the October 2018 ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague (n = 463), and the other one year later (n = 457). The data were studied by statistical analysis and the results showed the relevant predictive role of positive emotions. It was established that the participants present low levels of negative emotions, but they are not willing to cede territory to Bolivia and positively value the ruling in favor of Chile. These are important issues for the future relationship between the two countries.
Article
This research examines how the relationship between passion for an ideology and violent activism is magnified by the personal (vs. collective) loss of significance. In Study 1 (N = 238), the relationship between obsessive (but not harmonious) passion for the Republican Party and violent activism was moderated by personal (but not collective) loss of significance. Study 2 (N = 612) replicated these findings with an experimental manipulation of personal and collective loss of significance in a sample of Black Lives Matter supporters. In Study 3 (N = 416), we set out to attenuate the obsessive passion-violent activism relationship by experimentally manipulating personal and collective significance gain. Echoing the results of Studies 1 and 2, the manipulation of personal (but not collective) significance gain reduced the relationship between obsessive passion for the environmental cause and violent activism. Furthermore, Study 3 examined the psychological mechanism at play by incorporating a measure of goal-shielding-a factor of theoretical relevance to explain extreme behaviour. Personal significance gain reduced individuals' proclivity to inhibit goals unrelated to their ideological pursuit, which in turn reduced their support for violent activism. These findings reveal psychological factors relevant to detecting at-risk individuals and implementing cost-effective prevention programmes against ideological violence.
Article
Many people believe conspiracy theories, even though such beliefs are harmful to themselves and their social environment. What is the appeal of conspiracy theories? In this contribution I propose that conspiracy theories have psychological benefits by imbuing perceiver’s worldview with meaning and purpose in a rewarding manner. Conspiracy theories enable an alternative reality in which perceivers (a) can defend a fragile ego by perceiving themselves and their groups as important, (b) can rationalize any of their beliefs and actions as legitimate, and (c) are entertained through the opportunity to uncover a mystery in an exciting tale. These are short-term benefits, however, suggesting that conspiracy theories provide people with a form of instant gratification.
Article
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Mediation analyses abound in social and personality psychology. Current recommendations for assessing power and sample size in mediation models include using a Monte Carlo power analysis simulation and testing the indirect effect with a bootstrapped confidence interval. Unfortunately, these methods have rarely been adopted by researchers due to limited software options and the computational time needed. We propose a new method and convenient tools for determining sample size and power in mediation models. We demonstrate our new method through an easy-to-use application that implements the method. These developments will allow researchers to quickly and easily determine power and sample size for simple and complex mediation models.
Article
Full-text available
In adolescence, such matters as substance use and impulsiveness may give rise to problematic behavior repertoires. This study was therefore done to analyze the predictive value of sensation-seeking and impulsiveness dimensions related to the functions of aggression (reactive/proactive) and types of expression (physical/relational). A total of 822 high school students in Almeria (Spain) aged 13–18, were administered the Sensation-Seeking Scale, the State Impulsiveness Scale and Peer Conflict Scale. The results show the existence of a positive correlation of the majority of factors analyzed, both in impulsiveness and sensation-seeking, with respect to the different types of aggression. Furthermore, aggressive behavior is explained by the combination of a sensation-seeking factor (Disinhibition) and two impulsiveness factors (Gratification and Automatism). This study shows the need to analyze aggression as a multidimensional construct.
Chapter
Do you really think … that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that require strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one’s life on a single moment, to risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure, I care not – there is no weakness in that.
Article
The present studies examined the hypothesis that loss of personal significance fuels extremism via the need for cognitive closure. Situations of significance loss-those that make one feel ashamed, humiliated, or demeaned-are inconsistent with the desire for a positive self-image, and instill a sense of uncertainty about the self. Consequently, individuals become motivated to seek certainty and closure that affords the restoration of personal significance. Extremist ideologies should thus increase in appeal, because they promise clear-cut strategies for such restoration. These notions were supported in a series of studies ranging from field surveys of political extremists imprisoned in the Philippines (Study 1) and Sri Lanka (Study 2) to experiments conducted with American samples (Studies 3-4). Implications of these findings are considered for the psychology of extremism, and for approaches to counterradicalization, and deradicalization. (PsycINFO Database Record
Chapter
Radicalization refers to the process whereby an individual comes to endorse non-normative, and often violent, means as a mechanism for goal achievement. The present chapter discusses three psychological factors-the 3 Ns-involved in this process, specifically as it pertains to violent extremism. First, we discuss the need, that is, the individual motivation underlying violent extremism, triggering events that activate this motivation within the individual, and the ramifications of these triggering events on extreme behavior. Second, we discuss the role of ideological narrative in justifying and legitimating violence as a necessary and permissible tool toward goal attainment. Third, and finally, we discuss social networks, and the role they play in how would-be-terrorists find themselves joining extremist organizations, and how these group dynamics increase one's willingness to perpetrate extreme acts of violence.
Article
An important puzzle in the study of political violence is why individuals risk their life fighting for a public good, when they can free-ride and enjoy the same benefits if others take the risk. This logic is particularly important to rationalist theories, which view risk as an inherent cost to violent armed group participation – which has to be offset by selective incentives, peer pressure or coercion. This perspective has widely contributed to the understanding of violent conflict, but ignores key insights from psychology. What if risk is not a cost and instead attractive? In this article, I argue that people with a sensation seeking personality – interested in novel and intense experience and willing to accept risk for the sake of it – are more likely to join armed groups. Preliminary survey evidence comparing voluntarily and forcibly recruited members of Colombian armed groups supports my argument. The re-interpretation of a series of existing studies on Colombian guerrilla and paramilitary fighters illustrates the pervasiveness and varying manifestations of sensation seeking. Personality traits are an under-recognized ingredient in the process of joining armed groups and complement our current understanding, which is mainly determined by contextual conditions and situational motivations.
Book
This book provides a comprehensive guide to the different aspects of deradicalization theories, programs and methods. It analyzes the practical and theoretical aspects of deradicalization programs and the methods being employed to bring extremists and terrorist back to a non-violent life. The book includes in-depth case studies on programs and former extremists, including interviews with former German neo-Nazis and families of Jihadists who have received deradicalization counselling. Using a coherent theory of radicalization and deradicalization, it integrates existing programs into a typology and methodology regarding the effects and concepts behind deradicalization. In addition, a current state of the art assessment of deradicalization programs around the world provides a collection of programs and landscapes worldwide. It thereby functions as a unique guide for practitioners and policymakers in need of evaluation or construction of such programs, as well as a resource pool for academics interested in research about deradicalization programs and processes. The major aim of this book is to consolidate the existing scholarship on deradicalization and to move the field forward by proposing a coherent theory of deradicalization, including ways to measure effectiveness, standard methods and procedures, different actors of such programs and cooperation on national and international level. In essence, this work enables the reader to identify how, when and why deradicalization programs work, how they can be built and structured, and to identify their limitations. This book will be of interest to students of radicalisation, counter-terrorism, radical Islam, criminology, security studies and IR.