The Radicalisation Spectrum: How an Individual’s Susceptibility to Influence – Not Ideology – Incubates Radicalisation Towards Non-violent and Violent Extremism

Author: Matejic, Nicole1

Published in National Security Journal, 04 March 2024

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20240304.01 

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This paper proposes a new perspective on how radicalisation occurs. It argues that in group-based environments, radicalisation occurs on an ideologically-agnostic omni-directional spectrum of engagement vs disengagement where susceptibility to influence – not a commitment to a particular ideology at the outset – is a precursor to violent extremism. By using behavioural economics as a framework to organise information, particularly through the lens of an availability cascade, we can observe how influence underpins not only radicalisation, but the master narratives and grievances ideologies depend on. While the role of an ideology, or many ideologies, remain an important feature of radicalisation, this paper argues that the ability of an extremist availability entrepreneur to exert influence onto others across a ‘Radicalisation Spectrum’ is a constant a feature among those radicalising. This perspective accounts for an increasingly mixed ideological landscape among non-violent and violent extremists and concludes that a person’s susceptibility to influence is therefore a consistent marker for evaluating a person’s risk of radicalisation.

Keywords: Availability cascades, behavioural economics, counterterrorism, influence, radicalisation, violent extremism.


The study of violent extremism has often been tethered to the notion that a deep commitment to an extremist ideology is the driving force behind radicalisation. But as some scholars, recent1, violent extremist plots and terrorist attacks demonstrate2, this is not always the case. With attention now focusing on salad-bar types of non-violent and violent extremism, it is clear that a fanaticism towards a particular ideology – or the adoption of or shifting between many ideologies – is not a reliable indicator of violent intent. Scholars have also argued that significance and adventure seeking behaviours along with an attraction to violence (of any kind) presupposes any ideologically based radicalisation3. This paper argues that a susceptibility to influence is a common precursive marker among those radicalising towards non-violent and violent extremism in group environments. Further, this paper contends that radicalisation should therefore be viewed on a spectrum of engagement towards the justification of violence or disengagement away from violent ideation. In this way, behavioural economics concepts such as availability cascades, availability entrepreneurs and choice architecture can be used to organise information and serve as practical frameworks to explore radicalisation. When influence – rather than ideology – is the primary consideration, the under-explored element of dissuasion presents an opportunity to expand existing preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) models to not only understand the process in more depth, but better inform prevention initiatives. This paper argues that by acknowledging that all ideologies perform similar functions during radicalisation, a spectrum of radicalisation better reflects the real-world influences that nudge people towards – and away – from violence.

1 Dr Nicole Matejic is a pracademic and Adjunct Lecturer at Charles Sturt University’s School of Terrorism and Security Studies in Australia. Contact by email: