Cheshire-cat logic: The recurring theme of terrorist abnormality in psychological research

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Using an encounter from Alice In Wonderland as a metaphor, this article examines the long-running attempt to apply a psychopathology label to terrorists. The disorders of greatest interest to researchers (antisocial, narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders), are described in order to highlight their attraction for theorists. A review of evidence follows. The critique finds that the findings supporting the pathology model are rare and generally of poor quality. In contrast, the evidence suggesting terrorist normality is both more plentiful and of better quality. However, in response to a failure to find any major psychopathology, a trend has emerged which asserts that terrorists possess many of the traits of pathological personalities but do not possess the actual clinical disorders. This development has effectively tainted terrorists with a pathology aura, without offering any way to easily test or refute the accusations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-69
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology, Crime and Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • terrorism
  • terrorists
  • terrorist psychology
  • mental illness
  • mental health
  • Personality disorder

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