Understanding Terrorism

Psychology 487 
Spring 2014 Term 
Department of Psychology 
State University of New York at Buffalo 

Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.
B-77 Park Hall, North Campus
Office hours: T/R 18:30-19:30 h
and by appointment
telephone: 716.645.0267
e-mail: bozarth@buffalo.edu




Online Course Materials

Course Description

Course Prerequisites
& Format


Reading Material



Course Grade, Attendance, & Other Policies

Online Course Materials

Much of the material used for this course, including specific learning modules, is available online at PsychologyofTerrorism.com (follow the links from the “Academic Training” webpage). Specific assignments will be made throughout the semester and will generally follow the sequence found on the Academic Training modules on the PsychologyofTerrorism.com website (see links on bottom of page). UBlearns has also been set-up for this course, although most of the material is available on the Internet publically so that others may use it (UBlearns is restricted to enrolled students).

Course Description

The course examines various aspects of terrorism. Topics include terrorists' objectives, strategies, and specific methods including 'weapons systems.' The underlying causes of terrorist behavior are a fundamental consideration. The psychological impact of terrorism (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder) is secondary and is considered mainly within the context of its impact of the terrorists' behavior.

The primary course objectives are:


Part of the course explores the psychology of terrorism but not that of terrorists themselves. Motivation for individual terrorists is quite varied, ranging from zealous advocates of the terrorist organization’s objectives (agenda) to simple mental illness. The motivation for various terrorist organizations is more uniform with similar objectives and approaches across markedly different groups. Even when the methods used to achieve these objectives differ, terrorist organizations often have common motives and strategies for achieving their goals. A primary emphasis of the course is on identifying these common features both within and across terrorist organizations. Students must be able to 'think' like the terrorists to better understand their motives, their objectives, and the methods used to achieve their objectives. Effective counter-terrorist strategies and the eradication of terrorist 'breeding grounds' necessitate 'seeing the world from the terrorist's perspective.' Although some consideration of historic and of a variety of contemporary terrorist groups is appropriate, a main focus of the course is on current global terrorist threats.

“One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.”

Parental warning: This class is R-rated by the instructor and designed for mature students only (It may be X-rated by the second week of class.). Political correctness and pandering to special interest groups have no place in the open, free discussion of this serious issue that requires creative problem solving and not political rhetoric. Although the orientation of the course is strongly PRO-AMERICAN, the contemporary problem requires careful examination of U.S. foreign policy that may inadvertently contribute to the genesis of terrorism and to the terrorists' agenda. It also demands consideration of counter-terrorist strategies that provide an effective response to terrorism but may infringe on the American tradition of civil liberties and an 'open' society.


Psychology major or by permission of the instructor.

Instructional Format

The course is largely discussion oriented with thematic presentations by the instructor. Regular attendance, reading, writing, and thinking with considerable work outside of class are necessary for successful completion of this course. Short, focus essays are due at each class period. Video tapes and other media may supplement the regular course material. Some material is available only on the Internet and students are required to have an active computer account. Students are advised that the reading load is very heavy for this course averaging 9+ hours weekly of work outside of class.

This course is an upper-level course designed for mature university students. As such the expectations are different from most undergraduate courses.

Reading Material

There is no textbook used for this course. Some required reading material may be on deposit at the Jacobs Photocopy Center but most is available from PsychologyofTerrorism.com and the links from that web site. Other reading assignments may be made from the published literature and placed on reserve in the undergraduate library.

Course Grade

Student performance is assessed by a combination of several measures: (1) in-class discussions, (2) focus question essays, (3) annotated bibliographies, and (4) term papers. The participation component combines both in-class discussions (obviously students must be physically present to participate) and satisfactory completion of the focus questions into a single ‘score’ and may be ‘graded’ as a simple pass/fail for some class periods and performance based for others as necessary to ensure active student participation (see text box below). The other two components are assigned numeric scores based on the quality of the written submissions. The overall course grade is determined by mathematical calculation as follows: class participation including attendance, pop quizzes, and short twice-weekly focus essays contributes 70%, annotated bibliography contributes 10%, and the term paper contributes 20% to the final course grade. There are no regularly scheduled examinations for this course.

All written work must be typed and submitted as hardcopy (i.e., no electronic submissions accepted). The twice-weekly focus papers should generally range from 1 to 2 single-spaced pages (150-300 words per question for each of the two to four questions). The annotated bibliography should consist of approximately 20 sources, each summarized in 1/2 single-spaced pages (Books constitute the equivalent of several "sources" depending on the book's length and depth and on the written analysis provided by the student.). The term paper length ranges from 15 to 20 double-spaced pages; sources from the annotated bibliography can be used to provide the basis of the term paper. More details of the requirements and expectations for the written course components will be presented in class beginning the third week of classes.

Participation Score

Although originally conceived as a simple pass/fail score passed on timely submission of the focus questions and on student attendance with active participation during the mandatory attendance period, changing student dynamics have made it necessary to quantify individual components as part of the student’s course grade. The physical attendance and active engagement component contributes half the credit for each class period, while satisfactory completion of the focus questions submitted on the required date constitutes the other half. To ensure that students are actively engaged in the learning process during the lecture/discussion periods, pop quizzes may be used to assess students’ basic understanding of the lecture material and fulfillment of the learning objectives associated with each specific class period. Students are advised that poor performance on the pop quizzes because of a failure to pay close attention to the in-class presentations can rapidly erode the overall course grade. Students leaving class early are not permitted to make up quizzes at a later date.

Mathematically, each component (i.e., [1] active engagement as reflected by physical attendance and/or performance on pop quizzes, [2] satisfactory submission of focus questions) constitutes one-half of the 5% credit earned towards the student’s participation score, which in turn constitutes 70% of the overall course grade for the semester. Participation grades are based on performance during the 20-session mandatory attendance period.



Class attendance and participation in group discussions constitute an important component of the course. The mandatory attendance period begins 04 February and continues through 17 April. Students are permitted to miss two class periods during this time, after which each missed class period retroactive to the first two missed classes results in an attendance grade reduction of 5% (i.e., the third missed class period lowers the attendance grade to 85% -- the letter grade equivalent of a "B"). There are no excused absences for missed class periods -- you must be present to receive credit for participation. Students with commitments that conflict with the class meeting times and that might miss more than two of the mandatory attendance periods should withdraw from the course. Students are encouraged to attend all of the class periods, but only the 20 class meetings during the mandatory attendance period are used for calculating the class participation grade.

Important Deadlines

Annotated Bibliographies

(Final Versions)
Due: 01 April

 Term Papers

(Optional Preliminary Versions)
Due:15 April

Term Papers

(Final Versions)
Due: 30 April

Note that the above deadlines are firm and are NOT target deadlines. Students are invited to submit the required material early. Failure to meet these deadlines results in a 10% per day grade reduction (approximately one letter grade per day) for the corresponding assignment.  Not submitting the required written work has an even stronger detrimental effect than receiving a "D" on substandard written work. For example, a perfect participation score of "100%" would be lowered to a course grade of 70% (corresponding to a "C-" letter grade) if both the annotated bibliography and term paper were not submitted by the deadlines. There are no excuses, no exceptions. (These deadlines were posted by the second class period and students are advised to work well in advance of the deadlines.) The annotated bibliography deadline is strategically set for the first class period after Spring Break, and the term paper deadline is strategically set for one week after the end of the mandatory attendance period. (Note that an extended deadline of 08 May is ONLY for student who turned in preliminary drafts of their term papers by 15 April. This is to allow the professor time to review and return their work for revisions.) Students are strongly encouraged to 'work ahead' on these components throughout the semester.

Other Policies

Important Notice

This course has several special policies that will be enforced throughout the semester. The subject matter is 'emotionally charged,' sometimes requiring 'harsh' language and often requiring thinking from a perspective that may disagree with ones personal beliefs. Special policies regarding classroom behavior will be enforced (details are presented during the first class meeting), and all students are required to 'behave' accordingly. Failure to follow the 'rules of engagement' may result in expulsion from the course at any time throughout the semester. 


Changing classroom dynamics necessitate posting some explicit expectations for student behavior. Click here to read principles of student conduct in effect for this course that supplement those outlined in the University at Buffalo Undergraduate Catalog. Continued enrollment in this course presumes the student has read and will adhere to these principles.


Notice: Students with disabilities (physical or psychological) that require special consideration should notify the instructor and Accessibility Services (25 Capen Hall, 645-2608) during the first two weeks of class. Various support services may be available.

Copyright Notice

The material contained on this web site and the materials distributed for class are Copyright 2014 Michael A. Bozarth and are protected by U.S. and International copyright laws. Students are expressly prohibited from making audio or video recordings of lecture material and discussions and from compilation and distribution of class material except for their own private use.


Some of the topics addressed by the focus questions include:

Copyright 2004-2014 M.A. Bozarth (University at Buffalo)

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