Arie Kruglanski: cognition, motivation and radicalization

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Arie Kruglanski: cognition, motivation and radicalization

Discover the theories of Arie W. Kruglanski, one of the leading living social psychologists.

Last update: Augusts 27, 2020

Arie Kruglanski is a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, in the United States. Born in Poland, he spent most of his life in the United States, where he contributed to the development of several important theories.

Although the initial object of his studies was the theory of cognitive closure, he made his contribution in numerous other fields, leaving traces of his discoveries in several articles and books.



Among the main contributions of Arie Kruglanski, the need for cognitive closure, motivational preparation and the search for meaning stand out. Mutual influences can be seen in each of these theories.

In this sense, the theory of the search for meaning, the last of his theories, aims to explain the motivations of terrorists starting from the two previous theories.

Arie Kruglanski: cognition, motivation and radicalization

The need for cognitive closure

The need for cognitive closure, developed by Kruglanski, corresponds to the desire to give a quick answer to a question with a confusing or ambiguous content. People have an incessant need to seek information. In doing so, the need for closure interrupts this search by helping us to create knowledge. It is therefore a need on a daily basis to stop the continuous search for information.

Those with a strong need for closure quickly overcome uncertainty by making use of the information available. Through this information, they draw conclusions that will become immutable. If the information is wrong, they can go so far as to defend wrong positions.

Whereas the members of our social environment are the source of greater certainty and knowledge, they can also lead us to cognitive closure. In this regard, they will tell us how the world is made, how to behave in different situations, who they are and why they are important.



"Under the power of reward, communications are likely to consist of promises and exchanges of information about the positive outcomes each party has for the other, which increases the likelihood of a mutually satisfactory agreement."

-Arie W. Krugalnski

Motivational preparation

According to Kruglanski, we desire something when we miss it. These desires can be of any kind, material, symbolic, or both. Often they also arise from the influence of the surrounding environment and our loved ones. Consequently, desires have two components: size and content. Greatness alludes to what we desire and content to what we desire.

In addition, we also have expectations about desire. The estimated probability that it will be satisfied. In this sense, expectations will depend on past experiences and what others think. If our friends believe we can get it, our expectations will be higher. There are also other factors that influence expectations, such as optimism or cost.

It is imperative that a desire arise, even if desire and expectations will influence each other. In this way, the stronger the desire, the greater the expectations for its satisfaction. In the second case, the greater the expectations, the greater the desire. The goal, therefore, emerges when both components are high, and consequently the motivation to reach the goal also grows.

"The manifest basis of conflict may be present in real inequalities in education, but the chances of conflict increase even more as a result of underlying factors transferred from other situations."

-Arie W. Krugalnski

Search for meaning

Another of our needs according to Arie Kruglanski is the need to find meaning. That is, of feel important, have a goal or values ​​that guide our choices. When we lose meaning or find a greater one, our motivation awakens. This motivation is the search for meaning, which leads us, as the name suggests, to search for meaning.



Once this motivation has awakened, we will look for the means to find the meaning. These can be found in the most disparate fields, narratives or ideologies. If these narratives tell us that violence is the only possible means of achieving meaning and our social network supports the use of violence, we will end up opting for violent extremism. In other words, if our group supports violence and we are looking for meaning, we may end up using it. According to Kruglanski, this is precisely the path followed by the terrorists.

As we have just read, Arie Kruglanski has made a great contribution to psychology. In particular in three fields: cognition, motivation and terrorism. His research has led him to new discoveries in various fields. Thus, the theories of cognition and motivation he developed have given way to another theory that allows us to understand how people radicalize and end up joining terrorist organizations.


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