How Needs, Networks, and Narratives Promote a Willingness to Engage In Extremism

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Psychological theorists maintain that all behaviors are motivated by a basic set of biological and psychogenic needs (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Fiske, 2004; Higgins, 2012; Maslow, 1943). Different levels and constellations of needs elicit widely different behaviors from different individuals. The present research inquiries into conditions that increase individuals’ readiness to engage in behaviors characterized as extreme. According to Kruglanski et. al. (2018) extreme behavior occurs under the conditions of motivational imbalance when one need dominates others for a protracted period of time.

Whereas the model of motivational imbalance pertains to any need, in the present research I was interested in how it plays out when the dominant need is individuals’ quest for significance and mattering assumed to motivate individuals to engage in extremism for ideological causes (Kruglanski et al., 2013, 2014, 2017). The need for significance is social in nature, as significance is defined in terms of living up to values cherished by a given group. Hence, Kruglanski, Belanger & Gunaratna (2019) proposed a 3N model of extremism in which the need for significance is served by behaviors identified in the narrative embraced by the individual’s social network.

Four studies examined the 3N model toward exploring the psychological processes that set the stage for extremism. This research was driven by two main objectives. The first objective was to explore how three factors claimed to be of major influence on extremism, namely individuals’ Needs, their social Networks, and the Narratives embraced by those networks interact to motivate individuals’ willingness to make sacrifices. Second, to expand the body of empirical evidence supporting the 3N model by investigating thus far unexamined conditions of activating the quest for significance, and their possible interaction with an individuals’ Regulatory Focus orientation (Higgins, 1997). The results of the four studies provided mixed support for the hypothesized relations. Potential explanations and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed.