Globalization & Behaviour Part Three
Immigration and Terrorism

Travis DixonAbnormal Psychology, IB Psychology HL Extensions, Social and Cultural Psychology

This third and final post in the series looks at a complex relationship between globalization, immigration, acculturation, discrimination, terrorism and islamic extremism (Image: Pixabay)

It seems like a simple question – how does globalization influence behaviour? But the explanation is actually quite tricky since globalization itself is a rather abstract concept. Because of this, we need to find concrete examples. In the first two posts in this series we focused on changes in cultural dimensions and television through Westernization (see links below).  This final post in this series looks at another example of how globalization occurs: immigration. The behaviour it might affect? Well, there’s lots. This includes mental health (e.g. significance loss), extremism and possibly even terrorism. 

With globalization comes an increase in immigration, as can be seen in this graph (source: Forbes via USA Census).

Globalization is “a process by which cultures influence one another and become more alike through trade, immigration, and the exchange of information and ideas,” (Arnett, 2002). So globalization does not only refer to the spread of ideas, like individualism, but also the physical spread of actual individuals through immigration.

The rise in globalization has also coincided with a rise in global terrorism (Lutz and Lutz, 2015). Are these things related? Let’s investigate.

Read more:

Berry’s model of acculturation (source: Research Gate).

Immigration and Acculturation

When someone immigrates to a new culture, they need to acculturate (Read more: “What is acculturation?”) Berry outlines four different acculturation strategies that a person might adopt:

  • Assimilation
  • Integration
  • Separation
  • Marginalization.

Different acculturation strategies result in different mental health outcomes. A common finding is that immigrants who integrate tend to have the best mental health, while those who marginalize themselves are at risk for negative psychological outcomes and are more negatively affected by discrimination (More studies here). This is our first example of globalizations influence on behaviour through immigration:

Globalization = Rise in immigration = Use of acculturation strategies = Mental health

The evidence for this link is below.

TIP: The example of globalization’s influence on behaviour in this post is complex and difficult to explain. This is because it includes multiple related concepts, including globalization, immigration, acculturation, discrimination, mental health, discrimination, extremism and terrorism. This makes it suitable for many topics in the course, but also difficult. This is why students are advised to focus on the other two straightforward examples (linked below under “Read more”) unless they are very confident.

Globalization has seen a rise in immigration. It has also seen a rise in terrorism. But what is the explanation for this? It’s complicated, but Lyons-Padilla et al.’s study gives us some insight. It could be how immigrants adopt to their new culture as well as how others treat them.

Key Study: Belonging Nowhere

In 2015, Sarah Lyons-Padilla and her colleagues conducted a study of 260 first and second generation Muslim immigrants in the USA between the ages of 18-35. They gathered data on a range of measures, including acculturation strategies and mental health. One mental outcome they measured was something called significance loss. This is a feeling of lack of self-worth.

Result 1: There was a very strong negative correlation between integration and significance loss. This means that the more integrated they were, the less likely they were to also feel a sense of significance loss.

Result 2: There was a highly significant positive correlation between marginalization and significance loss. This meant that those who were marginalized were more likely to experience significance loss, which is a negative state of mental health.

Applying this to globalization, we can see how an increase in immigration due to globalization affects mental health due to the different acculturation strategies immigrants might adopt.

This study is also good to use for the acculturation topic in the Socio-cultural approach, as well as prejudice & discrimination and origins of conflict topics in Human Relationships.

How does this explain terrorism?

Significance loss is an important outcome to study because researchers hypothesize that it might be a leading risk factor for Muslim immigrants to become radicalized and join extremism organizations (Kruglanski et al, 2014). One explanation could be that the feeling of low self-worth pushes individuals to find a group they can belong to. Weber et al. (2018) suggest that the feeling of significance loss that often follows an encounter with prejudice or discrimination drives immigrants towards extremism groups because they want to gain a feeling of improved self-worth. Identifying with a passionate in-group could provide this.

In Lyons-Padilla’s correlational study, they also measured Muslim immigrants sympathies for a radical interpretation of islam and their support for a fundamentalist group.

What they found was quite interesting. Marginalization was not correlated with either of these things. However, significance loss was. This means that if they were marginalized they felt more significance loss AND they were more likely to be sympathetic towards a fundamentalist group and adopt a more radical interpretation of Islam.

These findings are correlational only, but they provide some insight as to why many American and other Western Muslims are being radicalized by extremist groups like ISIS. Image from original study.


The rise in globalization has coincided with a rise in Islamic extremism and terrorism. This could be because of how Muslim immigrants are acculturating. It could also be because of how they are treated. Discrimination also correlates with significance loss and increases the effects of marginalization on significance loss, which is a possible cause of radicalization and extremism.

Critical Thinking Considerations

  • These results are correlational only. The authors themselves agree: “We measured correlations, not causes.,” they state in their article. They also provide some other explanations for their results. Can you think of any? For example, we could say that significance loss leads to radical interpretations of Islam. But could the relationship be logically explained in the other direction? How about other relationships? You can read some of the author’s explanation in the original article (here).
  • The authors also concede that “…this study was based on a self-report survey, it could not measure actual radical thought and action.” Participants might not have been honest. But can you explain why not?
  • Can you think of the possible applications of this research?
  • What are the ethical issues associated with this study?

This post has been written using material adapted from our IB Psychology Revision Guide.


  • Kruglanski, A., Gelfand, M., Bélanger, J., Sheveland, A., Hetiarachchi, M., & Gunaratna, R. (2014). The Psychology of Radicalization and Deradicalization: How Significance Quest Impacts Violent Extremism. Political Psychology, 35, 69-93. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from
  • Lutz, B., & Lutz, J. (2015). Globalisation and Terrorism in the Middle East. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(5), 27-46. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from
  • Lyons-Padilla, Sarah, Michele J. Gelfand, Hedieh Mirahmadi, et al. “Belonging Nowhere: Marginalization & Radicalization Risk among Muslim Immigrants.” Behavioral Science & Policy 1.2 (2015): 1-12.
  • Webber, David & Babush, Maxim & Schori Eyal, Noa & Vazeou-Nieuwenhuis, Anna & Hettiarachchi, Malkanthi & Bélanger, Jocelyn & Moyano, Manuel & Trujillo Mendoza, Humberto & Gunaratna, Rohan & Kruglanski, Arie & Gelfand, Michele. (2018). The Road to Extremism: Field and Experimental Evidence That Significance Loss-Induced Need for Closure Fosters Radicalization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 114. 10.1037/pspi0000111.