Between 2012 and 2016, at least 50 individuals from the Belgian neighborhood of Molenbeek abandoned their home to join the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria. This rate of defection to a radical cause from one small Western European community was unprecedented. The problems the residents of Molenbeek were facing—lack of employment, education, and general incivility—are not uncommon in other neighborhoods. So, what makes this neighborhood so different?
Addressing this question, our team decided to understand the impact of these neighborhoods in light of three psychological forces called the 3Ns: Need, Narrative, and Network.
The need refers to people need to feel valued. When a universal need is severely frustrated, people are strongly motivated to restore it. Feeling humiliated or experiencing social injustices can cause feelings of insignificance. Identifying a quest or cause can help people restore their need for significance. Interviews conducted by the European Institute of Peace (EIP) reflect this loss of significance in Molenbeek. For instance, one neighbor said that “if you have an Arab name and Molenbeek as the address listed on your CV, you are automatically disqualified from the job market.” Others expressed hopelessness that significance could be found through traditional means, saying that they “simply don’t see the opportunities. Why would one pursue education if it doesn’t help?”
The narrative consists of perceptions about what is significant to those around them. In particular, do they think others endorse the use of violence to achieve significance? Or do these “narratives” promote nonviolent solutions? Reflecting this point, one interviewee pointed to ‘pseudo mosques’ as integral to feeding narratives of violence or nonviolence. One interviewee mentioned that outsiders “don’t know what is going on in the mosques, parks, and coffee shops.” Another added that “at a certain point, ‘pseudo mosques’ start the day with the intent to preach radicalism.”
Finally, the network unites the need and the narrative. The people we value are the ones who will support or reject the violent narrative. They are the ones who matter most when people determine what is meaningful and what are acceptable means to significance. In this vein, an interviewee, speaking about the Muslim community in Molenbeek, commented that “they feel empowered among themselves and don’t want to open up to other communities” indicating the dependence on the neighborhood for support. Other interviewees suggest that some youth turn to violence in “an attempt to conform to an older brother or group of friends.”
In sum, when a person suffers a loss of significance, a need to regain significance is awakened. This need leads the person to focus on their group or neighborhood’s narratives to guide their mission to regain significance. When the individual then shares that narrative with friends or family, the extent to which their network endorses violence as the only means of achieving significance determines the ultimate use of violence.
Young Muslims in Spain
Applying this model, we conducted field research in four settings in Spain, assessing different risk and protective factors outlined by the 3Ns. Our research on 365 young Muslims showed that the most vulnerable environments—those exhibiting high rates of unmet needs for significance, widespread violent narratives, and social network support for violence as a mean for significance—led to a higher perception of conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims and enhanced endorsement of terrorism as legitimate. In contrast, their beliefs that they could successfully integrate into society were diminished.
Based on these findings, we believe preventing radicalization requires interventions tackling these forces. These could include addressing social inequities that contribute to feelings of insignificance. Or lifting community voices that advocate prosocial means to meeting the need for significance. Or challenging the perceived social norms about how much one’s friends and family actually believe violence to be the answer. Different narratives are out there, if we can get people to listen.
- By Roberto Lobato, Manuel Moyano, Jocelyn Belanger, & Humberto Trujillo
Roberto M. Lobato is project manager and researcher at the Euro-Arab Foundation for Higher Studies (Spain). His research focuses on social identity, processes of radicalization, political violence, and terrorism.Manuel Moyano is Associate Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Cordoba (Spain). The areas of his works focus on psychosocial risk assessment, psychology of conflict and intergroup relations, psychology of violent radicalization and terrorism, forensic, and criminal psychology.
Jocelyn J. Bélanger is Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University Abu Dhabi. His work focuses on violent extremism and environmental sustainability.
Humberto Trujillo is Full Professor of Methodology for Behavioural Sciences at the University of Granada (Spain). His research is broadly concerned with indoctrination and recruitment in terrorist context and the relationships between criminality and political violence.
This post was previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
EIP (2017). Molenbeek and violent radicalisation: ‘a social mapping.’ European Institute of Peace (EIP), Brussels.
Kruglanski, A. W., Bélanger, J. J., & Gunaratna, R. (2019). The three pillars of radicalization: Needs, narratives, and networks. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190851125.001.0001
Lobato, R. M., Moyano, M., Bélanger, J. J., & Trujillo, H. M. (2021). The role of vulnerable environments in support for homegrown terrorism: Fieldwork using the 3N model. Aggressive behavior, 47(1), 50-57. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21933
How do legislators use science? It’s not an easy question for scientists to answer. Many are hard pressed to identify even one concrete example of an evidence-based legislative action. So, we sat down with policymakers to ask them the same question. What we heard will surprise those who are pessimistic that science is used at all in policymaking. We now can identify several ways that research flows, much like a river, through the policy landscape.
First, we reached out to 123 state legislators in Indiana and Wisconsin. These legislators then nominated an additional 32 colleagues who they felt were exemplary research users. We also supplemented our sample with 13 key policy players (such as governors, heads of lobbying firms, former legislators). Confidence in our findings can be inspired by the high response rates in the hard-to-access population of policymakers (60%, 84%, and 100% respectively).
When Research is a Hard Sell
We learned there are policies and people and places that can frustrate and facilitate research use. First, regarding policies, research was less likely to hold sway on polarized moral issues, such as reproductive rights. Research was generally less influential on issues driven by ideology, such as beliefs about whether government is the problem or the solution. There was little room for research on issues driven by passion, such as tragic personal stories. As one Republican relayed, “If a bill is named after somebody . . . like Sarah’s Bill, then you know research is screwed.”
Where Research Can Have an Impact
Policymakers turned to research more frequently on emerging issues such as opioid use, concussions, and rural Internet availability. Research also was more likely to influence issues where policymakers did not have established positions or where consensus had been reached, such as with the need for criminal justice reform. Research also appeared to flow more freely on the “million . . . technical issues . . . that’s really the majority of the [legislature’s] work.” One Republican, who worked on property tax assessment and land annexation, said technical issues don’t get a lot of media attention but still comprise about 80% of the policy agenda:
“There’s no quote ‘Republican or Democratic’ theory about them and there’s no big contributor to your campaign who cares. . . It’s just like you’re stripping it down to the essence of good government. . . I think you have . . . much more ability to govern in sort of an evidence-based way.”
Who Seeks Science
However, research use varies by people. Some legislators told us they rely on intuition or gut instinct, whereas others factor in research. As an example, legislators face hundreds of bills each session, which makes it literally impossible to read and study each one. So, legislators specialize and develop expertise on a particular issue. They become known as the “go-to” legislator, whom colleagues turn to for advice on what positions to take. To attain and maintain a reputation as an issue expert, they often use in-depth research. Also, members of the minority party more often turn to research evidence; the “minority party has to win more of its arguments based upon facts” because it lacks access to other levers of power.
Right Place, Right Time
Timing also mattered. Research more often is used early on in the policy process when the issue is still a work in progress and policymakers have not yet staked out a position. Where the research was introduced also mattered. The most expertise on specific issues lies in committees, where bills are developed before hitting the floor.
Regardless of the time or place, research is used in a political sphere where decisions are reached through negotiation. So, for policy purposes, the utility of research depends not only on its credibility to allies, but also to adversaries. Policymakers screen the credibility of research less by the methods and more by the source, particularly the source’s reputation as reliable and nonpartisan. Despite its value, policymakers believe that nonpartisan research is difficult to find.
To understand research use in policymaking, we must think like a river. Policy issues infused with morality, ideology, or passion flow through narrow, nonnegotiable routes that restrict research use. However, research can navigate the policy landscape on issues that are new, technical, or open to consensus. Research use is facilitated when it enters through the port of a committee and frustrated when it enters downstream where it hits the rapids of unrelenting time pressures. To guide next steps, policymakers provided practical advice to those interested in communicating research to them. Legislators also identified multiple ways that research contributes to their effectiveness as policymakers and to the policy process. See the works listed below for more about these recommendations.
- By Karen Bogenschneider & Bret N. Bogenschneider
Karen Bogenschneider is a Rothermel-Bascom professor emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her expertise is the study, teaching, and practice of evidence-based family policy. She is known for her work on the Family Impact Seminars, and is co-author of a forthcoming second edition of Evidence Based Policymaking: Envisioning a New Era of Theory, Research, and Practice.
Bret N. Bogenschneider is an assistant professor of business law in the Luter School of Business at Christopher Newport University. His expertise is in tax law and policy, and he is author of the recently released How America was Tricked on Tax Policy.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
Bogenschneider, K., & Bogenschneider, B. N. (2020). Empirical evidence from state legislators: How, when, and who uses research. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 26(4) 413-424. https://doi.org/10.1037/law0000232
Bogenschneider, K., Day, E., & Parrott, E. (2019). Revisiting theory on research use: Turning to policymakers for fresh insights. American Psychologist, 74(7), 778–793. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000460
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.