The hidden implications of radical group rhetoric: Integrative complexity and terrorism

Lucian Gideon Conway, Laura Janelle Gornick, Shannon Houck, Kirsten Hands Towgood, Kathrene R. Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


We compared the public rhetoric of two terrorist groups to ideologically-similar non-terrorist groups on integrative complexity and its two sub-components (dialectical complexity and elaborative complexity). We further attempted to use these constructs to understand when the two focal terrorist groups engaged in violent acts. Results suggested that terrorist group rhetoric was uniformly simpler than non-terrorist rhetoric, and that this simplicity was especially in evidence for elaborative forms of complexity. Secondly, results more weakly suggested that a pattern of complex thinking associated with defensive thinking - namely, higher elaborative and lower dialectical complexity - became more prevalent in terrorist rhetoric as a violent act became imminent. These results demonstrate that scoring the complexity of public rhetoric can potentially be used to understand the psychology of terrorist groups from a distance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalDynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways toward Terrorism and Genocide
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Content analysis
  • Integrative complexity
  • Rhetoric
  • Terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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