Does Media Exposure Influence an Individual’s Risk of Radicalization?

Summary: Exposure to radicalized content online, both active and passive, was associated with a more meaningful relationship with radicalization.

Source: Wiley

A recent analysis in Campbell Systematic Reviews examined the effects of media on two aspects of radicalization: the support of the use of radical violence in the name of a cause or ideology (called cognitive radicalization) and the actual involvement in such violence (called behavioral radicalization).   

The analysis, which included 53 studies, identified and examined 23 media-related factors. Based on experimental evidence, the study found that simple, one-time exposure to mediated content that is theorized to increase radicalization has a very small effect, even in individuals with aggressive predispositions.

Similarly, evidence indicates that most types of media usage have exceptionally small relationships with radicalization.

However, exposure to radical content over the internet, whether passive or active, was associated with more meaningful relationships with radicalization, especially when compared with other non-media related risk factors.     

Importantly, the authors noted that the results should be interpreted with caution because the amount of evidence is limited and of relatively low quality.   

“It has long been theorized that the media plays an important role in individuals’ radicalization, and in recent years, an increased focus has been placed on so-called ‘online radicalization’ or ‘cyber radicalization.’  Yet, until now, there has been no real attempt to quantitatively synthesize the evidence,” said Michael Wolfowicz, PhD, from the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

This shows images of different people
However, exposure to radical content over the internet, whether passive or active, was associated with more meaningful relationships with radicalization, especially when compared with other non-media related risk factors. Image is in the public domain

“According to our results, compared with other known risk factors, the internet and other types of media have only small relationships with the cognitive aspects of radicalization.

“However, for those who are already radicalized, active exposure to radical content, as well as other radicals on the internet is associated with a salient increase in the risk that they will turn to radical violence.”    

About this psychology research news

Author: Dawn Peters
Source: Wiley
Contact: Dawn Peters – Wiley
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Experimental evidence concerning media effects on radicalization is limited, inconclusive, and of low quality” by Michael Wolfowicz et al. Campbell Systematic Reviews


Experimental evidence concerning media effects on radicalization is limited, inconclusive, and of low quality


Most national counter-radicalization strategies identify the media, and particularly the Internet as key sources of risk for radicalization. However, the magnitude of the relationships between different types of media usage and radicalization remains unknown. Additionally, whether Internet-related risk factors do indeed have greater impacts than other forms of media remain another unknown. Overall, despite extensive research of media effects in criminology, the relationship between media and radicalization has not been systematically investigated.


This systematic review and meta-analysis sought to (1) identify and synthesize the effects of different media-related risk factors at the individual level, (2) identify the relative magnitudes of the effect sizes for the different risk factors, and (3) compare the effects between outcomes of cognitive and behavioral radicalization. The review also sought to examine sources of heterogeneity between different radicalizing ideologies.

Search Methods

Electronic searches were carried out in several relevant databases and inclusion decisions were guided by a published review protocol. In addition to these searches, leading researchers were contacted to try and identify unpublished or unidentified research. Hand searches of previously published reviews and research were also used to supplement the database searches. Searches were carried out until August 2020.

Selection Criteria

The review included quantitative studies that examined at least one media-related risk factor (such as exposure to, or usage of a particular medium or mediated content) and its relationship to either cognitive or behavioral radicalization at the individual level.

Data Collection and Analysis

Random-effects meta-analysis was used for each risk factor individually and risk factors were arranged in rank-order. Heterogeneity was explored using a combination of moderator analysis, meta-regression, and sub-group analysis.


The review included 4 experimental and 49 observational studies. Most of the studies were judged to be of low quality and suffer from multiple, potential sources of bias. From the included studies, effect sizes pertaining to 23 media-related risk factors were identified and analyzed for the outcome of cognitive radicalization, and two risk factors for the outcome of behavioral radicalization.

Experimental evidence demonstrated that mere exposure to media theorized to increase cognitive radicalization was associated with a small increase in risk (g = 0.08, 95% confidence interval [CI] [−0.03, 19]). A slightly larger estimate was observed for those high in trait aggression (g = 0.13, 95% CI [0.01, 0.25]). Evidence from observational studies shows that for cognitive radicalization, risk factors such as television usage have no effect (r = 0.01, 95% CI [−0.06, 0.09]).

However, passive (r = 0.24, 95% CI [0.18, 0.31]) and active (r = 0.22, 95% CI [0.15, 0.29]) forms of exposure to radical content online demonstrate small but potentially meaningful relationships. Similar sized estimates for passive (r = 0.23, 95% CI [0.12, 0.33]) and active (r = 0.28, 95% CI [0.21, 0.36]) forms of exposure to radical content online were found for the outcome of behavioral radicalization.

Authors’ Conclusions

Relative to other known risk factors for cognitive radicalization, even the most salient of the media-related risk factors have comparatively small estimates. However, compared to other known risk factors for behavioral radicalization, passive and active forms of exposure to radical content online have relatively large and robust estimates. Overall, exposure to radical content online appears to have a larger relationship with radicalization than other media-related risk factors, and the impact of this relationship is most pronounced for behavioral outcomes of radicalization. While these results may support policy-makers’ focus on the Internet in the context of combatting radicalization, the quality of the evidence is low and more robust study designs are needed to enable the drawing of firmer conclusions.

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