The Psychology of
University of Kent at Canterbury, UK
This chapter provides an overview of the areas in which psychological research can contribute to understanding terrorist hostage-taking. The study of hostage-taking, as with terrorism in general, has been crossdisciplinary and therefore this review includes a variety of material relating to psychological issues, whether written by psychologists or not. It sets out the scope of research directions, rather than attempting to analyse any one area in depth.
Figure 3.1 provides a summary model of the stages of hostage-taking following the temporal frame of the incident (down the page). The three main parties involved in the process are represented by three columns across the page. The psychological issues that arise at each stage are summarised within the model, and the principal phases of interaction between the parties are indicated with arrows. The chapter reviews the areas where psychology is relevant at each phase of the incident, some of which are covered in more depth in other chapters of this book.
For the purposes of the present review, an incident is described as 'hostage-taking' where the abduction takes place in order to extract some form of concession in return for the safe release of the hostages. Thus, the capture of the hostages is taken to be planned, rather than resorted to when another form of action has failed, for example where hostages are