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Adventures in Solitude: The Link Between Social Isolation and Violent Extremism

Wood, Natasha (2020) Adventures in Solitude: The Link Between Social Isolation and Violent Extremism. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Domestic extremists pose a serious threat to the United States, with recent research suggesting that America is experiencing an upswing in radicalization. The present research explores an important motivational mechanism through which people could become an extremist: social isolation. When socially isolated from others, people are deprived of the certainty of normative structure, the fundamental need to belong, and meaningful social connection. In order to investigate the relationship between social isolation and extremism, we ran two cross-sectional studies with a student population (Study 1; N = 269) and a sample of U.S. residents (Study 2; N = 391). Results from Study 1 suggest that extremism is highest in individuals who spend more time alone and have a smaller social network. Additionally, this relationship is mediated by loneliness. Results from Study 2 suggest that greater loneliness, need to belong, and norm deviation is associated with greater extremism. Additionally, replicating the finding of the first study, the link between social isolation (operationalized as greater time spent alone and smaller social network) and extremism is mediated by loneliness. This research has important implications for understanding motivations that drive extremism and for countering violent extremism. The results of these studies are especially pertinent because people are more isolated now than ever before.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wood, Natashanrw26@pitt.edunrw26
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairOrehek,
Committee MemberBinning,
Committee MemberSchumann,
Date: 8 June 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 April 2020
Approval Date: 8 June 2020
Submission Date: 8 April 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 71
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Violent extremism, aggression, isolation, loneliness, social norms
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2020 15:29
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2020 15:29


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