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The Critical Role of Friends in Networks for Countering Violent Extremism: Toward a Theory of Vicarious Help-seeking

NCJ Number
Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression Volume: 8 Issue: 1 Dated: 2016 Pages: 45-65
Date Published
21 pages

This article reports on two studies that examined the critical role of friends of those at risk of violent extremism in taking action that prevents violence.


Who would be the first to notice, and able to intervene, with individuals considering acts of violent extremism? Study 1 found evidence that those best positioned to notice early signs of individuals considering acts of violent extremism might be those individuals’ friends: perhaps more so than school counselors, clergy, or family members. Furthermore, participants indicated that the predominant reason underlying individuals’ reluctance to reach out to countering violent extremism (CVE)-relevant service providers was fear of the potential repercussions for such actions. Additionally, that fear generalized not only to a reluctance to reach out to law enforcement agencies, but also to others within prospective CVE-relevant networks (i.e. religious officials, or family members). An option for addressing such reluctance (via an evidence-based, anonymous, texting-oriented crisis hotline for associate-gatekeepers) is discussed. Given that reluctance, what factors might affect individuals’ willingness to intervene in CVE contexts? Study 2 revealed two extensions to the bystander intervention model [Darley, J., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377–383], necessary for it to be applied more accurately, and usefully, to CVE contexts. Specifically, individuals’ reluctance to dissuade their friends or family members from committing violence appeared to be moderated by their level of fear that doing so might damage their relationships with them. Furthermore, there was evidence that individuals’ level of personal identification with friends or family members might reduce both their willingness to intervene, and their ability to recognize violent extremism in the making. (Publisher Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2016