Study: More Research Needed On Risk Factors Associated With Terrorism

Sep 27, 2017

President Trump has expanded a travel ban on mostly Muslim-majority countries for national security reasons. But N.C. State University psychologists say there isn't enough research on the risk factors associated with terrorist activity to set evidence-based policy.

Sarah Desmarais and her team analyzed 12,000 studies on terrorism and found that most compared terrorist groups with one another, not with non-terrorist groups.

“We really need to step away from research that is simply presenting statistics on the prevalence or the percentage of individuals who have a certain characteristic, such a being Muslim or a certain faith,” Desmarais said. “That was the kind of research that we really came across over and over, and yet that doesn't tell us if that differs between the folks who are terrorists and those who are not.”

Desmarais said that being Muslim and having a foreign travel history were not statistically associated with terrorism, even though these are often a central focus of counter-terrorism strategies.

She said profiling terrorist groups by just comparing them with each other could actually increase radicalism instead of preventing it.

“If we're really looking at these more stereotypical factors that are showing up as percentages, as opposed to really distinguishing between groups, we might be contributing to further stigma and sort of discriminatory behaviors, which could actually increase the risk that someone is going to be radicalized because they're feeling persecuted,” she said.

Desmarais said there needs to be more research comparing terrorist groups with non-terrorist groups.