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Social psychological conditioning


Techniques Conversion > Social psychological conditioning

Depluralization | Self-deindividuation | Other-deindividuation | Dehumanization | DemonizationSee also


Anthony Stahelski (1974) identified five stages of social psychological conditioning used by terrorists that have very close similarity with techniques used by cults.

He noted that terrorists tend to come from families where the father is absent or otherwise lacking in ability to provide the normal guiding role. They may also have difficulty forming relationships outside the home, for example in school or at work, and thus are attracted to groups who offer acceptance and comradeship.


Stripping away of membership of all other groups, thus isolating the person and making them more susceptible to the terrorist messages.

This may well also include separating them from their families, who might well attempt to persuade them back to a more normal way of thinking and acting.

This may be a slow process, taking several years, as the person first joins intermediate groups who may have a more radical position, yet not as radical as the more extreme groups which they may eventually be encouraged to join. This happens when they are 'ready', both ideologically and emotionally.


Stripping away the person's identity. This identity destruction allows the terrorist organization to reconstruct the person's core identity as a fighter, bomber or other role needed by the group.

This may include changes of clothing, for example to wear clothes that are similar to the extreme others and which may be a military uniform of some kind. Right and wrong (and hence values) are accepted from group leaders without question.


Stripping away the personal identities of enemies prevents any relationship with them. All others become a distant 'them' who can be described generically as 'they are all the same'.

This includes breaking of all ties with families, friends and other groups who are now outsiders.


Framing the enemy as being less than human, turning them them into objects that are easy to attack without shame or guilt.

Others are thus defined as stupid, immoral, unreliable, debased, and so on. They are framed as animals (rats, cockroaches, etc.) or worse (filth, germs) and deserving of being killed.


Framing the enemy as being evil, unrepentant and unredeemably bad, such that destroying them is actually doing the world a favor.

Destroying evil thus becomes the act of the righteous and earns salvation and other spiritual accolade and reward.


There is constant pressure for unquestioning obedience to the authority in the group.

They train hard together, thus creating strong social bonds between the groups members, much as the training of more legitimate military units. 

Those who wish to leave may be coerced into staying, for example by death threats to family and friends.

See also


Stahelski, Anthony: Terrorists Are Made, Not Born: Creating Terrorists Using Social Psychological Conditioning, Journal of Homeland Security, March 2004

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