The science of radicalization and deradicalization: a knowledge synthesis to support evidence-based detection, prevention and intervention

Radicalization does not necessarily lead to violent extremism.

For the purposes of this knowledge synthesis, radicalization is taken to mean the adoption of political or religious beliefs that are not shared by most people. Violent extremism occurs when the adopted beliefs incite violence. There are different degrees of radicalization. The most radical individuals are those who are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of their cause.

Radicalization is taken to mean the adoption of political or religious beliefs that are not shared by most people. 

In this study, current scientific knowledge was integrated in a coherent and parsimonious theoretical framework: the three N's model of radicalization, which postulates that violent extremism requires the presence of three elements: the activation of a Need, the presence of an ideological Narrative and a Network of peers who subscribe to that narrative. These same elements can also initiate the deradicalization process.

Several studies support the argument that the Need for personal significance is a dominant requirement for violent extremism. Radicalization can occur if the individual perceives a loss of significance or sees an opportunity to gain significance. The Network exposes the individual to a radical ideology and legitimizes the use of violent means while rewarding the person willing to defend the cause. The Narrative offers the violent means by which the individual can gain personal significance.

Certain sociodemographic characteristics are more strongly associated with radicalization (middle class, low-income households, good education, criminal history, young age). Some personality traits are also associated with violent extremism, such as collective narcissism, a need for cognitive closure and thrill-seeking.

To our knowledge, the only deradicalization program that has been empirically evaluated is that in Sri Lanka. It is based on the three N's and appears to be effective in leading to deradicalization. In terms of prevention, the "Diamant" program by Feddes et al. was evaluated and was found to reduce support for ideologies that advocate violence. This prevention program also supports the three N's model, seeking to restore participants' sense of personal significance. The study by Schumpe, Bélanger, Giacomantonio, Nisa and Brizi shows that participants exposed to a peaceful solution to advance their cause express less interest in political violence.

Main researcher

Julie Caouette, John Abbott College


Research report

Call for proposals

Deposit of the research report: December 2018