A central goal of IS propaganda is to bring the ostensible reward of the jihadist path into the teenager’s suburban bedroom and make it real.

In the wake of the Sydney arrests of Milad Atai and an unnamed 16-year-old school girl charged with funding Islamic State, the inquest into the death of radicalised teen Numan Haider and the anniversary of the alleged suicide attack by Jake Bilardi on the 8th Iraq Army Division in Ramadi, it is worth asking; are we any closer to understanding why young people will give up their lives for this cause?

Professor Arie Kruglanski, Senior Researcher at the National Centre for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, says IS homes in on a need that is especially acute for young people struggling with uncertain futures and the pressures of career and success, or immigrants humiliated by society’s disdain.

“ISIS propaganda has been very effective in arousing people’s desire to do something important, their quest for significance, and convincing them that the way to become important, to do something that will establish their name as heroes and martyrs, as glorious fighters, courageous men, is by joining ISIS,” he says.

Kruglanski’s research has found that people burdened with a sense of failure may be especially open to the group membership and belonging offered by IS.

In a soon to be published study people who rated their own lives less successful were more likely to think children should be raised to serve the nation or a religion rather than pursue personal success.

Says Kruglanski, “if you lose significance you feel humiliated and weakened and this provides an impetus to join a group because there is power in numbers, in belonging to an entity greater than yourself.”

In exchange for that power the new recruit signs an implicit and deeply psychological social contract that extracts obedience.

“Community is defined by its shared reality, by its set of beliefs. To the extent those beliefs justify violence against a real or imagined enemy those people who join the community to feel empowered also feel obliged to carry out its commands,” says Kruglanski.

Read the full feature at Croakey here