A research team with members from the University of Oxford and Artis International began to study the mentality of captured ISIS fighters to further understand what motivates them to commit such inhumane, violent acts. The study was headed by Scott Atran and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. The goal of the study was to better understand the minds of Extremists, which will ultimately aid in combat strategies. Altman stated that they have pinpointed the main factors that make extremists commit unspeakable acts of terror and even kill themselves.

Motivation is the main element in getting anything done. Until World War II, Researchers believed that money and material things were the main motivators behind fighting battles against all odds. However, this new study has taken a deeper look into why some people are willing to go to extreme measures such as giving up their friends, family, and even sacrificing their own lives.

What makes a terrorist?

According to the study, there are three main factors behind whether or not an individual will make extreme sacrifices for a specific belief system. First is the unshakeable belief in "sacred" values. This is typically measured by how devoted the individual is to a certain group or organization.

In this case, researchers interviewed captured ISIS fighters, Arab Sunni combatants, Kurdish and Peshmerga fighters, and soldiers in the Iraqi army.

Researchers also enlisted the help of 6,000 Spanish civilians via an online quiz. The purpose of this was to contrast the difference between civilians and militant combatants. The study showed that the civilians placed their families above their "sacred" values in most cases.

For the extremists, the case was a very different one. The results for the combatant test subjects showed that they followed a model of "devoted actors" to a varying degree of extremism.

The second factor lies in the willingness to choose "sacred" values over the safety of Family Members. Some extremists were more willing to sacrifice their family or their lives than others.

It was noted in the study that the decision to put the lives of family members at risk was not taken lightly. Many of the fighters expressed regret and showed signs of emotional distress when they were questioned about this.

For instance, one Peshmerga fighter left his family behind when ISIS took control of their city. He was unable to escape with his family, so he decided to leave them there while he went off to fight against ISIS. During his interview, he was able to speak with his wife on the phone. His distress was notable, yet he maintained that his decision to leave them and fight against ISIS was the correct one.

The final factor lies with "spiritual strength" or the fighter's conviction over that of his enemies.

This is what tends to happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Spiritual strength is a primary motivator in the minds of extremists.

The findings

The fundamental findings from this psychological study determined that people who were willing to sacrifice their families/their own lives made this decision based on their commitment to the ideology of their specific cause. This is what makes an extremist. It has been determined that these extreme actions do not stem from a distinctive personality trait, but from the immersion of a fighter into his chosen cause/ideology.