Psychological Traits of Violent Extremism Investigated Using New Research Tool

Summary: The newly developed Extremist Archetypes Scale includes five dimensions of extremist archetypes.

Source: PLOS

Researchers have developed and validated a new tool known as the Extremist Archetypes Scale to help distinguish different psychological traits found among people engaged in violent extremism.

Milan Obaidi and Sara Skaar of the University of Oslo, Norway, and colleagues present the tool and validation results in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 20.

People who join violent extremist groups may differ widely in their motivations, knowledge, personalities, and other factors. However, research into violent extremism has often neglected this variation, limiting the scope and usefulness of such research. To help address this issue, Obaidi and colleagues built on earlier research to develop a new scale that captures heterogeneity among extremists.

Their new Extremist Archetypes Scale includes five dimensions of extremist archetypes: “adventurer,” “fellow traveler,” “leader,” “drifter” and “misfit.” An “adventurer,” for instance, may be drawn to extremism out of excitement and the prospect of being a hero, while a “drifter” may seek group belonging.

The researchers chose to treat archetypes as dimensions in order to allow for instances in which an extremist does not fall perfectly within a single archetype and to be able to capture a person’s transition into an extremist archetype.

Next, the researchers conducted several analyses to help validate the Extremist Archetypes Scale. They tested associations between people’s scores on the scale and their scores on several well-established scales that evaluate personality traits, sociopolitical attitudes, ideologies, prejudice, and ethnic identification. In addition, they validated the scale’s applicability across diverse instances related to gender, political orientation, age, and ethnicity.

This shows the outline of two heads
People who join violent extremist groups may differ widely in their motivations, knowledge, personalities, and other factors. Image is in the public domain

The validation analyses supported the predictive validity of the scale—including across political orientation and ethnicity—as well as the idea that the archetypes consistently reflect different personality and behavioral profiles.

For instance, the “adventurer” archetype was associated with personality traits of extraversion and violent behavioral intentions, and the “misfit” was associated with narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

The researchers suggest that application of their scale in future research could help inform counter-extremism efforts. They also note that they focused on group-based extremism, but future research could examine archetypes of extremists who act alone.

The authors add: “The current research developed the Extremist Archetypes Scale, which measures different archetype dimensions that reflect different motivations for joining extremist groups and obtaining different roles within them.” 

About this psychology research news

Author: Hanna Abdallah
Source: PLOS
Contact: Hanna Abdallah – PLOS
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Measuring extremist archetypes: Scale development and validation” by Milan Obaidi et al. PLOS ONE


Measuring extremist archetypes: Scale development and validation

Previous work has often disregarded the psychological heterogeneity of violent extremists. This research aimed to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the psychological diversity of violent extremists.

Based on qualitative work, we developed and validated the Extremist Archetypes Scale, identifying five distinct archetype dimensions: “adventurer,” “fellow traveler,” “leader,” “drifter” and “misfit.”

Study 1 identified five dimensions among White majority members (N = 307), four of which were related to extremist violent intentions and which dissociated in terms of sociopolitical ideologies and intergroup attitudes.

Preregistered Study 2 (N = 308) confirmed the scale’s five-factor solution in another sample of White majority members, replicated relationships with violent intentions, and demonstrated the dimensions’ distinct personality correlates.

As in Study 1, the archetype dimensions had positive associations with extremist violent intentions and tapped onto different psychological profiles in terms of major personality traits. Study 3 (N = 317) replicated these results in a sample of Muslim minority members.

Measurement equivalence was established across gender, age, political orientation, and ethnicity (majority and minority).

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