The powerful emotion of shame is often used effectively by terrorist groups to help gather and radicalize followers, according to a new paper from Matthew Kriner, a research intern at Valens Global. Understanding the levers that shame can pull will enable a better appreciation of extremist manipulation of individuals.
Compelling shame narratives can be used effectively by terrorist groups to get inside followers, Kriner argued. The emotion can also explain how extremist views can be passed effectively to second and third generations, as has happened in some European countries.
Often, shame is used as a regulator to drive adherence to group norms, he noted. Research has shown that how an individual comes to their beliefs is more important than what they believe. Yet despite historic investigation of shame and its power, much modern research has overlooked the emotion.
By calling on an individual’s conscience, the shame emotion can be exploited to promote specific beliefs and behaviors, Kriner found. It also has a role to play in justifying terrorist violence, and the paper provides a number of examples where groups have deployed it to help justify radical or extremist behavior.
Kriner suggests future research should look at both the wider role of shame, and its connected emotion, pride. The two interact, and can be effectively deployed by groups to drive member behavior. While often a taboo subject in modern society, shame remains a highly powerful tool.