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On February 5, 2016, Dr. Sarah Lyons-Padilla and Dr. Michele Gelfand presented at a SPSSI-sponsored Congressional Lunch Seminar on the topic of evidence-based strategies for preventing homegrown radicalization. The seminar was hosted in conjunction with the Honorable Jim McGovern and attended by more than 100 congressional staffers and professionals from advocacy, association, and other nonprofit organizations. 

Dr. Lyons-Padilla began the presentation by debunking some popular myths about homegrown terrorists, and then discussed the psychology of radicalization, explaining that theories of radicalization highlight identity issues and that radicalization might be triggered by threats to one’s sense of significance or feeling that one matters. Next, she described what successful immigrant integration looks like, and explained how the study that she conducted with Dr. Gelfand shows that Muslim immigrants and first-generation American Muslims who identify with both their heritage culture and American culture are most resilient to radical messages. In their study, Drs. Lyons-Padilla and Gelfand also found that discrimination was especially harmful to those people who felt “culturally homeless,” meaning that they did not identify strongly with their heritage culture nor with American culture.

Dr. Lyons-Padilla made a number of recommendations based on the research evidence, including:

Toward the end of her presentation, Dr. Lyons-Padilla focused on promising directions, including the 2015 White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, and community-based programs such as Montgomery County Model.  

After the presentation, Drs. Lyons-Padilla and Gelfand took questions from the audience. They also visited with the offices of their lawmakers during their visit.



Sarah Lyons-Padilla, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at Stanford SPARQ: Social Psychological Answers to Real-world Questions, a “do tank” that partners with practitioners to improve society by applying insights from social science. She received her Ph.D. in social and industrial-organizational psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and American Association for University Women Fellowship recipient. Her research focuses on the role of culture in intergroup conflict, and her work on the psychological foundations of homegrown radicalization has been funded by the NSF and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). She recently received SPSSI’s Social Issues Dissertation Award for this research. The results are forthcoming in the journal Behavioral Science and Policy and recently received coverage in The Conversation, The Washington Post, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other media outlets.

Michele J. Gelfand, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and Distinguished University Scholar Teacher, Affiliate of the RH Smith School of Business, and leads a diverse group of scholars within the Social Decision Making and Organizational Science area at the University of Maryland, College Park. Under her direction, this group studies phenomena relating to the strength of cultural norms and cultural values, negotiation, conflict, revenge, and forgiveness, and diversity. More recently, she has branched into the study of subjective culture in the Middle East, and has founded a growing research program on tightness-looseness. Her philosophy is to incorporate as many disciplinary perspectives in her work, and she works with computer scientists, neuroscientists, political scientists, and increasingly biologists to understand all things cultural. Dr. Gelfand is the Past President of the International Association for Conflict Management and is the most recent recipient of the Annaliese Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which was given to 7 scientists worldwide for outstanding contributions in their fields. Her work that was published in Science was honored with the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues for the best paper published in 2011. Her work has been cited over 12,000 times and has been covered by NPR, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Scientific American, among other outlets.



To watch a recording of the presentation on SPSSI's YouTube channel, click here. To view and/or download the slides, click here.

Click here to read the one-page fact sheet and click here to read an op-ed by Drs. Lyons-Padilla and Gelfand, which appeared in the Washington Post.

Click here to see the event invitation.