Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty

Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty

Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty

Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty


Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty showcases cutting-edge scientific research on the extent to which uncertainty may lead to extremism. Contributions come from leading international scholars who focus on a wide variety of forms, facets and manifestations of extremist behavior.
  • Systematically integrates and explores the growing diversity of social psychological perspectives on the uncertainty extremism relationship
  • Showcases contemporary cutting edge scientific research from leading international scholars
  • Offers a broad perspective on extremism and focuses on a wide variety of different forms, facets and manifestations
  • Accessible to social and behavioral scientists, policy makers and those with a genuine interest in understanding the psychology of extremism


Michael A. Hogg and Danielle L. Blaylock

Life is an uncertain enterprise. We can never be sure about what really happened in the past, about what will happen in the future, about how others will behave, and about how we should behave. In the face of such unrelenting uncertainty, humans remain undaunted; they tenaciously set goals, make plans, and pursue actions. As John Lennon famously put it in his 1980 song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” People work hard to feel sufficiently certain about themselves, other people, and the world they live in, to feel they are acting adaptively and charting a meaningful course through life. Overcoming, combating, and managing feelings of uncertainty play a central role in the human condition.

Life can also be a distressing enterprise. Thomas Hobbes, in his 1651 Leviathan, characterized the natural state of humankind as a war of all against all in which human life was famously described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In particular, people seem depressingly capable, individually or in groups, of treating others badly; ranging from unsympathetic disdain to cruelty and violence. Zealotry, ideological orthodoxy, prejudice, discrimination, terrorism, war, and genocide stalk the globe. In everyday language we often consider these behaviors “extreme” and those individuals who engage in them “extremists.” Extremism is a staple of both popular fiction and current affairs, but it is also a contested term and a rhetorical device that can be used as an insult or part of a narrative aimed at discrediting the actions of individuals and groups.

Uncertainty and extremism often appear to go together. There are many examples. The best documented is probably the global rise of national-political extremism during the Great Depression of the 1930s—developing into a shift toward fascism, communism, and nationalism that culminated in genocide and a world war that killed between 62 and 78 million people. Immediately after the war, the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the West created uncertainty . . .

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