Cognitive Biases, Emotions, and Radical Actions


Individuals’ cognitive biases and emotions may exert a significant impact on their lives. People are often known to take action and make decisions based exclusively on their feelings and beliefs, which may lead to severe consequences, a point that is crucial to keep in mind when considering terrorism and political violence. This research is significant because many people suffer from preventable attacks. Thus, it is critical to study cognitive biases and emotions that are potentially associated with violence to eliminate adverse outcomes.

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Research shows that some emotions, such as anger or pride, may result in risk acceptance, increasing an individual’s willingness to be resistant (Pearlman, 2013) and possibly motivating violence and rebellion, even to the point of engaging in political violence and terrorism. Kaczynski (1995) supports this point of view and notes that those who commit crimes are emotionally involved in their actions. Bruneau (2016) adds that confirmation bias may lead to radical actions. Thus, emotional distress and cognitive biases may result in the outbreak of political violence and terrorism.

The Influence of Cognitive Biases and Emotions

Various studies support a link between specific facets of individuals’ cognition and emotions, especially anger. Canetti (2017) shows that emotional distress can lead to political violence and terrorism. Exposure to these issues may provoke their recurrence as this experience may be severely traumatizing for individuals. In addition, the desire to engage in political violence or terrorism may reflect a person’s coping response to stress.

Humans may unconsciously use counter-aggression to protect themselves from unfavorable feelings or emotions. Moreover, Cosmides and Tooby (2000) report that emotions are programs that direct people’s activities and interactions with reality. Through emotions, individuals engage with the events in their lives and develop perspectives regarding their experiences. The authors add that anger is a powerful mechanism that allows humans to attack an antagonist more easily (Cosmides & Tooby, 2000).

Cognitive biases can also lead to violence and terrorism as individuals who observe others’ behavior are likely to take similar actions (Gallese et al., 2004). This means that humans tend to perceive the actions they observe in others as correct. In addition, Bruneau (2016) reports that confirmation bias, a type of cognitive bias, may motivate individuals to take radical action. This happens because humans tend to uncritically accept information that corresponds to their opinion. Thus, a person who believes that a political party has won an election by dishonest means is more likely to express approval of this opinion and engage in political violence.


A direct link is evident between humans’ cognitive biases and emotions and their radical actions. The research in the field shows that crimes may involve high levels of emotional commitment on the part of individuals, while emotional distress and anger may cause counter-aggression and provide motivation for violence. Moreover, exposure to traumatic events associated with negative feelings may lead to their recurrence. Confirmation bias can trigger radical action as well because people tend to seek out support for their opinions.

Works Cited

Bruneau, Emile. “Understanding the Terrorist Mind.Cerebrum, vol. 2016. Web.

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Canetti, Daphna. “Emotional Distress, Conflict Ideology, and Radicalization.” Political Science & Politics, vol. 50, no. 4, 2017, pp. 940-943.

Cosmides, Leda, and John Tooby. “Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions.” Handbook of Emotions, edited by Michael Lewis and Janette Haviland-Jones, Guilford, 2000, pp. 91-115.

Gallese, Vittorio, et al. “A Unifying View of the Basis of Social Cognition.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 8, no. 9, 2004, pp. 396-403.

Kaczynski, Theodore. Industrial Society and Its Future. 1995. Web.

Pearlman, Wendy. “Emotions and the Microfoundations of the Arab Uprisings.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 11, no. 2, 2013, pp. 387-409.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Cognitive Biases, Emotions, and Radical Actions." June 14, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Cognitive Biases, Emotions, and Radical Actions'. 14 June.

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