When prevention could be the cure: Developing an instrument for the detection of adolescent vulnerability to extremism

Claire O'Neill

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The prevalence of young Australians choosing to endorse radicalism and either attempt travel to conflict zones or participate in home-grown terror plots is a concerning feature of the Australian terrorism landscape. Little research has been undertaken that specifically focusses on the uniqueness of the adolescent experience and what may be present during this critical period of identity formation to give rise to extremist vulnerability.

With this acknowledgement must come a recognition of the unique challenges faced by authorities tasked with early identification of young people who are willing and able to commit acts of terrorism. Furthermore, of the critical need for an apparatus that focuses specifically on the measurement of adolescent vulnerability, to support the early detection and prevention of such acts in the first place.

This study intended to identify psychosocial factors influencing adolescents to gravitate toward extremist messages and to develop an inventory to measure such vulnerability. Based on existing literature, three psychosocial factors—relative deprivation, humiliation, and moral disengagement—were identified as contributing to the development of youth identity.

Social identity theory (SIT) is the foundational theory underpinning this study. Uncertainty-identity theory (UIT) is a later supplement to the original theory. SIT examines how intergroup dynamics assist in the formation of self-identity, played out in a person’s identification with and assimilation into certain groups.

As an extension of SIT, UIT seeks to explain the importance of group identity in alleviating individualistic uncertainty about both the world and one’s place in it. In terms of relevance, however, people are more motivated to resolve issues of uncertainty when those issues relate to or are reflections of the self. Both theories provide a concrete foundation for the current study’s central arguments. The more uncertain young people are about the world, their place in it (and by extension their group belonging), the more likely they will be to gravitate toward groups that seem to promise certainty. Extremist groups, with their strict rules, norms, behaviours, and beliefs, offer such a promise.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Policing and Security
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Corbo Crehan, Anna, Principal Supervisor
  • Nolan, Mark, Principal Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2020


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