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Decision processes of a suicide bomber—the economics and psychology of attacking and defecting

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This paper provides a theoretical analysis of suicide attacks and defection. First, decision processes of potential attackers are examined from an economist’s perspective. The results are then applied to insights from behavioural economics and psychology. We derive conditions under which agents decide to become suicide bombers—or to announce an attack and defect later. Taking account of hyperbolic discounting we show why the decision to commit a suicide attack can be time-inconsistent and what internal manipulation mechanisms (arising from cognitive dissonance and terror management) and external manipulation mechanisms (employed by terrorist organizations and governments) might prevent or foster time-inconsistency.

Keywords: D69; D74; cognitive dissonance; defection; hyperbolic discounting; suicide terrorism; terror management; time-inconsistency

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Ifo Institute for Economic Research and University of Munich, 2: Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), Bilbao and Basque Foundation for Science (IKERBASQUE), Bilbao, Spain

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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