Appetitive aggression can be explained as the use of violence and/or the desire of harm to a victim for the purpose of experiencing violence-related enjoyment. If it is use as a tool it is: proactive, appetitive, predatory and goal directed (1). The feelings experienced by preparatory most are positive. It is worth underlining that the final goal may not always be a reward but simply the delight of cruelty. Interestingly this kind of aggression is found only in humans and the Hominini species, regardless of sex. This phenomenon very often appears or increases when the victim struggles. Resistance can cause excitement and increase the use of violence. Some scholars look for the roots of appetitive aggression in the development of hunting behaviour. However, this reward-driven mechanism that responds to hunting-related rituals is only to observe in men (2). Another type of cruel behavior is reactive aggression. It features hostility, affectiveness, defensiveness and retaliation.
Appetitive aggression among female combatants has not been studied systematically. However, some analysis proved, that there is no difference between male and female fighters in aggressive behavior in war and post-conflict regions (3). Aggressive behavior during wartime may be a mixture of reactive aggression (impulsive, affective and uncontrolled behavior provoked by a perceived or real threat) and the aforementioned appetitive aggression motivated by intrinsic reward (suppression, emotion unleashing). Violence can be seen as fascinating and exciting or it can be a form of adopting to the battlefield’s environment, or a result of huge psychological oppression.
Nevertheless, it can be problematic to compare the experience of war combatants with criminals and terrorists. Organized crime (terrorism overwhelmingly is a collective action) is subjected to other conditions (internal and external, subjective and objective) and the catalysts of radicalisation to brutal violence may be different than during wartime (4). The combatants are often directly and repeatedly affected by the violence. Conversely, terrorists path to violence can be a phase process – like a metaphor for a staircase (5) – and many of them have had a „normal life” before.
There is a well-established belief that terrorist organizations are hostile environments for women. If women are members they are perceived as enslaved and forced to stay either by the organization (through blackmail, threat, abduction) or the situation (occupation, loss of family member, childlessness, disability, redemption, family honor) and are not seen as rational actors. For example, a well-known American female suicide terrorist researcher Mia Bloom, has identified five factors (motives) of engagement, so called the Four R’s plus One: revenge, redemption, respect, relationship, and rape (which is a tool that can contribute to revenge or shame). All these elements can overlap (6). Moreover, they all underline the traumatic position of a woman who refuses to admit her fate or torment her with emotions (love, hatred, despair), heroically performs self-sacrifice. Who is responsible for her decision? Geopolitical situation, dysfunction of the state, social system, or is she herself responsible? Special type of terrorist attacks, when the perpetrator sacrifices own life is appetitive aggression or reactive one? And why so easy we are searching for the answers in external and oppressive conditions while analysing female terrorists activity? Perhaps accepted is to recognize women as a victim, not as a monster with hunger to kill? Compelling argument is that terrorist are not psychopaths (7).
Searching for answers to the motives leading to terrorist activity expand the studies on terrorism, which will usually be in the perspective of cultural roles and images about ourselves and those that threaten us. It does not improve understanding about how these women build relationships with the outside world and why terrorist organizations recruit girls and women. It may, however, be suggested how organizations search for candidates, among others by manipulating the motives presented by Bloom. However, the reduction of women’s motivation to the five suggested R’s does not always have to apply. The formulation of general categories and assumptions for terrorist activity and motives can not apply to all terrorist forms and trends. The phenomenon of terrorism is not homogeneous, often due to the different social contexts in which the organization operates so the catalysts can be different and often unique (8). It does not matter if we are researching women or men. Challenging topics that remain are: the gender of the subject of analysis, the gender of researcher and his/her perception of gender roles in a given historical time, imprisoned in a given culture.
(1) R.G. Fontaine, Disentangling the Psychology and Law of Instrumental and Reactive Subtypes of Aggression, „Psychology, Public Policy, and Law” 2007; Vol.13(2), pp.143–165.
(2) D. Jones, Human behavior: Killer instincts, „Nature” 2008, Vol. 451, pp. 512–515.
(3) R. Weierstall, T. Elbert, The Appetitive Aggression Scale—development of an Instrument for the Assessment of Human’s Attraction to Violence, „European Journal of Psychotraumatology” 2011; Vol. 2.; D. Meyer-Parlapanis, R. Weierstall, C. Nandi, M. Bambonyé, T. Elbert, A. Crombach, Appetitive Aggression in Women: Comparing Male and Female War Combatants, „Frontiers in Psychology” January 2016, Vol. 6, p.1-8.
(4) A. Zięba, D. Szlachter, Countering Radicalisation of Muslim Community Opinions on the EU Level, „International Studies. Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal”, Vol. 17, No. 1/2015, pp.119-144
(5) F. Maghaddam, Staircase to Terrorism. A Psychological Exploration, „American Psychologist” February-March 2005, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 161-169.
(6) M. Bloom, Bombshell: the Many Faces of Women Terrorism, C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd: 2011, p. 234-236.
(7) J. Horgan, Psychology of Terrorism, Routledge 2002.
(8) See: A.Zięba, Problem udziału kobiet w organizacjach terrorystycznych, [in:] P.de la Fuente, W. Gzicki, C. Taracha (ed.), Terroryzm wczoraj i dziś: wybrane problemy, Lublin 2015, pp. 49-65.