The Society for the
Study of Social Issues


SPSSI Virtual Issue: Toward an Understanding of the Orlando Massacre

The articles are available for free download here:

The horrifying mass shooting in June of 2016 at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando raises hard questions about the prevalence of hate crimes against gays, lesbians and bisexuals; the continuing persistence of gun violence; and the psychological factors that lead some people to commit radical acts of terror.

As the nation’s leading group of psychologists who study social issues, SPSSI is uniquely positioned to make empirically rigorous contributions to these questions. Drawing on previously published research from all three of its journals—the Journal of Social Issues (JSI), Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP), and Social Issues and Policy Review (SIPR)—SPSSI editors have compiled nine articles that go in some measure toward explaining the inexplicable. As our nation tries to make sense of these tragic events, it is our hope that SPSSI’s evidence-based scholarship will contribute to positive social change. 

Among the most important points raised by the articles concerning violence and discrimination against LGBT people:

  • Victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation are most often attacked in public settings by strangers who call them names while assaulting them.
  • Victims’ decision to report their crime depends on a host of factors: their assessment of police bias, the risk of publicly disclosing their sexual orientation, the likelihood that the perpetrators would be caught and punished.
  • Social policies that adversely affect lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals increase their stress and elevate their risk of mental health problems.
  • Gays and lesbians, like the overweight, face socially sanctioned discrimination on a daily basis. Legislation could help reduce this discrimination.

On gun violence and police discrimination against African Americans:

  • The evidence is clear: Gun prevalence is positively related to homicide rates.  
  • To reduce gun violence, a federal registration system for all firearms would be an important first step.
  • In computer simulations both college-aged participants and police officers correctly responded more quickly to guns, but more slowly to non-guns, held by black targets than by targets of any other race.
  • However, racial biases affected the speed of the police response but not behavior.

On radicalization and group violence:

  • People who don’t feel in control of their life are more likely to develop ethnocentric attitudes, in part because they believe they’ll be in charge again if their group is restored to power.
  • Economic crises, terrorism and other perceived threats can provoke ethnocentrism; developing pro-social responses to those threats can be challenging.
  • There are three ways to understand terrorism:
  1. At an individual level, as a form of psychopathology reflecting a unique constellation of personality traits.
  2. At a group level, as a social process, involving recruitment, indoctrination, and the construction of a shared social reality.
  3. At an organizational level, as a bureaucratic challenge, entailing training, logistics and cost effectiveness regarding the decision to launch or abstain from terrorist activities.

On Muslim terrorism:

  • Many U.S. Muslims who see the war on terror as insincere also see it as a war on Islam.
  • Reducing discrimination against Muslims in the United States will not have much effect on radicalization.
  • Many Islamist terrorists have led secular lives and refute the idea that they become terrorists as a result of lifelong radical, religious brainwashing, or socialization.
  • Countering mass sympathy for terrorism is, to a first approximation, an entirely separate problem from countering terrorists or blocking radicalization to terrorist action.

Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin