Study Links Obsessive Passion and Social Alienation to Support for Political Violence

A burning car on the street. Credit: University of Cordoba

Violent extremism could be defined as support for violence to achieve political, ideological or social goals. Under the aegis of this type of mindset, violent acts are seen as a legitimate means of imposing a way of life in which there is no room for diversity. But what actually underlies this type of behavior, and what drives a given person to display these behaviors in which political violence is a desirable option?

A research team from the University of Cordoba (UCO) and the International University Center of Marbella asked themselves the same question and, in a study published in the Interpersonal Violence Journal, analyzes some of the factors involved in this radicalization process. According to the main conclusions of the work, two elements can favor extremism and can therefore be considered as risk factors: social alienation and what is called in the scientific literature “obsessive passion”. The more intense these two sentiments, “the greater the support for political violence,” the study says.

While social alienation can be understood as a feeling of detachment and disconnection from society, obsessive passion involves a tendency towards a certain activity in which, in some way, self-control is lost. “There is a harmonious passion, which is positive and pushes us to perform rewarding actions, but also another linked to negative indicators of mental health and psychosocial adaptation”, explained researcher Manuel Moyano, one of the researchers from UCO’s Department of Psychology who participated in the study. It is precisely this last feeling which, according to the study’s results, makes individuals more likely to react violently to what they perceive as attacks on their identity.

To reach this conclusion, the team interviewed more than 1,500 people of different age, background, education and employment status in two complementary studies. The first evaluated the concept of religion as a cause of obsessive passion, while a second study, carried out with a different sample, analyzed another of the causes that can make some people “obsessively passionate” beings: the family. However, as the study points out, there are many causes that may give rise to this uncontrolled passion and which should be considered in future studies.

Both studies confirmed the same hypothesis: feelings of social alienation, that is, disengagement from society, can trigger extreme behaviors and support for political violence, especially among “people who develop an obsessive passion for a particular cause or ideology,” according to the study. concludes.

Understanding how these factors are linked, explains Professor Moyano, can be essential to better understand the mechanisms that lead to violent extremism and, above all, to develop new strategies focused on the prevention of political violence, a priority objective at a times like today, in which new armed conflicts are reshaping international relations and in which various studies have warned of increasing social polarization. In this context, understanding the social and psychological causes of the process of violent radicalization is crucial in order to be able to take proactive measures of prevention and adaptation.


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More information:
Roberto M. Lobato et al, Disconnected by passion: relationship between social alienation and obsessive passion, Interpersonal Violence Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1177/08862605221094631

Provided by the University of Cordoba

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