Understanding ‘moral emotions’ with greater granularity may assist in potential risk and protective factor identification and, the tactical understanding of violent extremists.

Mr David Whittingham1
1Evexia, Brisbane, Australia

Understanding emotions and ‘moral emotions’ with greater granularity may assist in potential risk and protective factor identification and, the tactical understanding of violent extremists.

The combination of anger, contempt and disgust emotions (ANCODI) has been found to a potential precursor to violent events in verbal and non-verbal expressions of emotion (Matsumoto, Frank and Hwang, 2015). A phased emotional process has been offered explaining the movement from outrage based on anger, to moral superiority based on contempt and, then elimination based on disgust (Matsumoto et, al 2012). Further, such emotions have also been considered in both the ‘mindset’ of extremist violence and the process of ideological development, as well as a critical aspect of assessing the risk and protective factors for extremist violence (Borum, 2003 and 2015).

Guilt or shame proneness has been found to act as a protective or risk factor for psychological problems (i.e. substance abuse) and criminal recidivism respectively (Stuewig, Tangney, Heigel, Harty, McCloskey 2010).  Certain types of situations have been known to elicit guilt and shame and shame is known as a more painful, disruptive, maladaptive emotion, associated with externalising blame, anger, hostility and notably experimentally, with aggressive behaviour for those high in narcissism (Tangney, Stuewig & Mashek, 2007; Thomas, Bushman, Stegge & Olthof, 2008).  Guilt prone people however have been found to be disinclined to aggression, not externalise blame and, in prospective research, guilt was found to protective of delinquent behaviour (Stuewig & McCloskey, 2005).

In summary, greater awareness of ‘moral emotions’ across anger, contempt, disgust, shame and guilt and their function in the ‘mindset’ of violent extremism, risk assessment and formulation, may offer tactical and early intervention opportunities (i.e. reducing shame/increasing guilt) attuned to an ‘actors’ emotional profile and it’s granularity (Borum, 2003, 2015 and Feldman Barret, 2017).


David Whittingham is a Director and co-founder of Evexia, a workplace psychology company.

David has worked as a Forensic Psychologist in Australia in the public and private sector, specialising in people risk, threat assessment and safety systems. He has also worked as a Chartered Forensic Psychologist in the United Kingdom in community and secure settings providing tertiary consultation liasion risk assessment and intervention services.

David is an experienced national and international presenter on organisational health and leadership, bullying and harassment, complex workplace conduct and reasonable management actions and, employment and forensic vulnerabilities with autism spectrum profiles. He has presented at several conferences on these topics including  the Australian Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law Congresses, Australia’s No 2 Bullying Conference, the Asia Pacific Autism Conference and, the International Conference on Care for Offenders.

David has developed and delivered training programs specific to complex stakeholder engagement for high risk roles in the resources sector, risk and wellbeing leadership in the health sector, reasonable management action processes in the legal and insurance sector and, tactical communication and negotiations in the policing and security sector.

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