Female terrorists' bios belie stereotypes, study finds

May 15, 2012, American Psychological Association

Much like their male counterparts, female terrorists are likely to be educated, employed and native residents of the country where they commit a terrorist act, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

The findings contradict stereotypes presented in previous studies that describe female terrorists as socially isolated and vulnerable to recruitment because they are uneducated, unemployed and from a foreign land, psychologists reported in a study published online in the APA journal Law and Human Behavior. These assumptions are not supported by evidence, according to the study authors.

"We discovered that some of the popular notions about female terrorists do not reflect what has occurred in the past," said the study's lead author, Karen Jacques, PhD. "A more realistic description is helpful because it provides insights into the that might promote an individual's involvement in terrorist activities."

Researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom examined archival from multiple sources on 222 female and 269 male terrorists connected to one of 13 conflicts involving nationalist-separatists, social revolutionaries or religious fundamentalists, including al Qaeda, the Irish Republican Army and the Popular Liberation Army of Colombia.

Jacques and her co-author, Paul J. Taylor, PhD, examined eight variables for each terrorist: age at first involvement, education, employment status, , marital status, religious conversion, criminal activity and activist connections.

The majority of both female and male terrorists were between 16 and 35 years old, native residents, employed, educated through secondary school, not converted from another religion and rarely involved in a previous crime, the study said. Compared to male terrorists, the researchers found, women had on average more education, with the majority continuing beyond secondary school, and were more likely to be divorced or widowed, less likely to be employed and less likely to be immigrants. Collectively, the findings for female terrorists indicated more of an emphasis on individual motivations, such as personal revenge for the death of a loved one, rather than collective engagement in terrorism, the authors said.

"A surprising finding was that, unlike for other criminals, there were very few instances of previous involvement in criminal activity among both females and males," said Jacques. "This could be because they were unwilling to confess to other crimes, because criminality could attract authorities' undue attention to potential terrorists, or the possibility that having a criminal career is not a significant precursor to terrorism."

About a third of both male and female terrorists had prior connections to terrorism activities via their families. However, more than 50 percent of those with family connections to terrorism indicated that family influence did not motivate them to carry out terrorist activities, the study said.

Explore further: 'Bombshell' explodes myths of female terrorist motivation

More information: Article: "Myths and Realities of Female-Perpetrated Terrorism," Karen Jacques, PhD, and Paul J. Taylor, PhD, Law and Human Behavior, online, April 2012.

Related Stories

Research Reveals Patterns of Terrorist Preparation

July 17, 2008

Analysis of an extensive terrorism database housed at the University of Arkansas has revealed patterns in activities of terrorists preparing for an attack, information that can be invaluable for law enforcement agencies seeking ...

What makes solo terrorists tick?

December 15, 2011

The double terrorist attack in Norway last July, which claimed 77 lives, has moved violent acts committed by single individuals up the political, media and now research agendas. Known as "lone wolf terrorism," these acts ...

New crime-fighting tools aim to deter and nab terrorists

February 8, 2012

Fingerprints, ballistics, DNA analysis and other mainstays of the forensic science toolkit may get a powerful new crime-solving companion as scientists strive to develop technology for "fingerprinting" and tracing the origins ...

How do we fight the war against cyber terrorism?

April 11, 2011

The Internet has no borders, no universal legislation, and although highly social and distributed is not represented by cooperation across the globe. Given those characteristics how might nations make their plans for counter ...

Recommended for you

Crowds within crowd found to outperform 'wisdom of the crowd'

January 18, 2018

A team of researchers affiliated with institutions in Argentina, the U.S. and Germany has found that there is a way to improve on the "wisdom of the crowd"—separate the people in a given crowd into smaller groups and let ...

Study sheds new light on ancient human-turkey relationship

January 17, 2018

For the first time, research has uncovered the origins of the earliest domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico. The study also suggests turkeys weren't only prized for their meat—with demand for the birds soaring with the Mayans ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) May 15, 2012
I would venture that the female terrorist were more "masculine" than the average woman. Less emphasis on feelings, and more on things and events. They could have found out if this was true by checking what occupation the women had: were they nurses or were they engineers?
Funny they didn't think of checking this "easy picking" fruit..
not rated yet May 15, 2012
And, so, the article admits, "studies" that were given the imprimatur of "scholarship" and accepted as undeniable because "scientists can't lie", are shown to be nothing more than lies, full of unsupported fabrications. Like the "reports" about banned weapons systems in Iraq! And, when baseless claims are spread, the source of the pipe dreams usually is personal preference, assertions made by propagandists to promote their criminal aims! And, remember, at the time, the previous deceitful "reports" were described as "authoritative"! You can't really trust anything that comes from big money, high ranking operations based on collections of individuals who are answerable to no one in the "rank and file"!
not rated yet May 15, 2012
And so, since you find that they are educated, you must admit that their acts are of the utmost evil, and not excusable or defensible by an appeal to ignorance, propaganda, or misinformation.
not rated yet May 16, 2012
So..., in the context of a science forum, where people read about science and scholarship, a forum where discussion ideally has rules for proving something and it is ideally based on facts --in such a context, what exactly is the meaning of the term "terrorism"?
1 / 5 (1) May 16, 2012
how do Condi Rice and Albright fit into this profile - or are mass murderers another kettle of fish?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.