Terrorists’ moral judgment probed in psychology test

LONDON-A project aiming to “scientifically understand the mindset of terrorists” has published insights that the scientists say could have implications for terror prevention. Researchers worked with a group of 66 incarcerated ex-combatants from a paramilitary terrorist group in Colombia, a country with one of the greatest insurgency rates in the world.

This unique experiment revealed what the team described as an “abnormal pattern of moral judgment” in terrorists.

The scientists say a psychological “score” based on this could be an accurate way to discriminate between the mindset of a terrorist and that of a non-criminal.

The researchers, based in Argentina, the US, Colombia and Chile, published their findings in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Agustín Ibanez and Adolfo García, from Favaloro University in Buenos Aires, who were part of the international research team, told BBC News they had spent four years working with Colombian law enforcers to secure permission to work with this large group of dangerous, incarcerated terrorists.

The study participants were former members of right-wing paramilitary groups, all of whom had been convicted of murder. Many had been involved in massacres with hundreds of victims.

They took part in a series of psychological tests, including an assessment of moral cognition.

This involved presenting the subjects with a series of scenarios in which characters either deliberately or accidentally caused harm to others.

Each subject was then asked to rate the scenario on a scale from totally forbidden (1) to totally permissible (7). Dr Ibanez said: “The typical response is that attempted harm should be more objected to than accidental harm. [But] the pattern in terrorists was the opposite.” The pattern this research revealed was that “extreme terrorists judge other people’s actions by focusing on the outcomes of an action rather than its underlying intentions.

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