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Evidence that suicide terrorists are suicidal: Challenges and empirical predictions

  • Adam Lankford (a1)

The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers proposes that suicide terrorists are psychologically and behaviorally similar to other people who commit suicide, due to a range of individual, social, and situational factors. Some commentators agree, while others are skeptical, given the lack of information about many attackers' lives. However, the book's position is not simply based on individual case studies; it is also supported by other independent assessments, the confirmation of empirical predictions, the paucity of contradictory evidence, and new applications of evolutionary theory. It is undisputed that human beings behave as the author suggests; it is unknown if they behave as the conventional wisdom suggests. Those who argue that suicide terrorists are psychologically normal and altruistically sacrificing their lives for an ideological cause should bear the burden of proof for those claims.

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S. Atran (2003) Genesis of suicide terrorism. Science 299:1534–39. Available at:

R. Brym & B. Araj (2012) Are suicide bombers suicidal? Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 35:432–43.

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T. Joiner , J. Pettit , R. Walker , Z. Voelz , J. Cruz , M. Rudd & D. Lester (2002) Perceived burdensomeness and suicidality: Two studies on the suicide notes of those attempting and those completing suicide. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 21:531–45.

A. Lankford (2010) Suicide terrorism as a socially approved form of suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention 31(6):287–89. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000073.

A. Lankford (2011a) Could suicide terrorists actually be suicidal? Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34:337–66.

S. Milgram (1963) Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67:371–78. Available at:

F. M. Moghaddam (2005) The staircase to terrorism: A psychological exploration. American Psychologist 60:161–69.

P. Zimbardo (1972) Pathology of imprisonment. Society 9(6):48.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
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