Co-funded by the European Union

This page collects the publications of the PROTON project. The papers offer a technical description of the main and most innovative results achieved by the project.

Grassroots community actors leading the way in the prevention of youth violent radicalization

Puigvert L, Aiello E, Oliver E, Ramis-Salas M
PLoS ONE 15(10): e0239897 (2020)

Violence-free family ties, non-violent peers or attachment to society have been pointed out as protective factors against different types of extremism and violent radicalization by international literature. However, more detail needs to be provided about which specific aspects within these realms (friendship/family/community) are effective in challenging violence and how they operate in practice. Recent research conducted under the framework of the PROTON project (Horizon 2020) has analyzed the social and ethical impacts of counter-terrorism and organized crime policies in six European countries. In this article we discuss some identified common features among practices that, developed by organized actors operating at the local level (e.g.: grassroots-based associations, educational institutions, other type of organized networks for prevention, NGOs), are contributing to preventing youth violent radicalization, a phenomenon of growing concern in Europe and beyond. Standing on a solid rejection to violence, these shared features are the following: a bottom-up approach in setting allies with key stakeholders from the community or/and family members to intervene; the promotion of trustworthy and healthy friendship relationships; debunking the lure surrounding violent subjects (“false heroes”) and violence in the different contexts, especially in the socioeducational one.

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Employment and crime: A longitudinal follow-up of organized crime offenders

van Koppen, V., van der Geest, V., Kleemans, E., & Kruisbergen, E. (2020).
European Journal of Criminology

Employment is considered to help offenders desist from crime. Studies focusing on organized crime offenders, however, have suggested that employment may promote rather than inhibit crime for these offenders, but lacked quantitative individual-level data to confirm this finding. Using a large sample of organized crime offenders (N = 1921) and longitudinal individual data on offending, employment, income and financial support, the current study aims to clarify the role of employment in the offending careers of these offenders. Fixed effects models show the effects of employment, self-employment and employment on the payroll. For organized crime offenders, being employed is associated with a 10 percent increase in offending and having their own business is associated with a 23 percent increase in offending. For organized crime offenders in leadership positions, employment is associated with a 47 percent increase in offending and owning a business is associated with a 68 percent increase in offending.

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Understanding Recruitment to Organized Crime and Terrorism

Editors: Weisburd, D., Savona, E. U., Hasisi, B., Calderoni, F.
Springer International Publishing (2020)

This volume provides insights on how recruitment patterns develop for two related types of criminal networks: organized crime and terrorism. It specifically explores the social, situational, psychological, and economic drivers of recruitment. Although organized crime networks and terrorism networks can differ in underlying goals and motivations, this volume demonstrates common drivers in their recruitment, which will provide insights for crime prevention and intervention.

The goal of the book is to explore the current knowledge about these common drivers, as well as highlight emerging research, to identify and prioritize a research agenda for scholars, as well as policymakers. The research presented in this work aims to fill existing gaps in the knowledge of recruitment to both organized crime and terrorism. For each area, it provides a systematic review of the existing research on social, psychological, and economic drivers of recruitment. It then presents findings from independent original research aimed to explore new ground not covered in these previous studies.

The contributions to this volume were the result of a research project funded by a European Union Horizon 2020 grant, and present a diverse, international mix of expertise and cases. It will be of interest to researchers in criminology and criminal justice, as well as related fields such as sociology, psychology, and international relations.

Chapter 13 of this book is available open access under a CC BY 4.0 license.

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The evolution of lying in well-mixed populations

Valerio Capraro, Matjaž Perc and Daniele Vilone
Journal of the royal society interface, Volume 16, Issue 156 (2019)

Lies can have profoundly negative consequences for individuals, groups, and even for societies. Understanding how lying evolves and when it proliferates is therefore of significant importance for our personal and societal well-being. To that effect, we here study the sender-receiver game in well-mixed populations with methods of statistical physics. We use the Monte Carlo method to determine the stationary frequencies of liars and believers for four different lie types. We consider altruistic white lies that favor the receiver at a cost to the sender, black lies that favor the sender at a cost to the receiver, spiteful lies that harm both the sender and the receiver, and Pareto white lies that favor both the sender and the receiver. We find that spiteful lies give rise to trivial behavior, where senders quickly learn that their best strategy is to send a truthful message, whilst receivers likewise quickly learn that their best strategy is to believe the sender’s message. For altruistic white lies and black lies, we find that most senders lie while most receivers do not believe the sender’s message, but the exact frequencies of liars and non-believers depend significantly on the payoffs, and they also evolve non-monotonically before reaching the stationary state. Lastly, for Pareto white lies we observe the most complex dynamics, with the possibility of both lying and believing evolving with all frequencies between 0 and 1 in dependence on the payoffs. We discuss the implications of these results for moral behavior in human experiments.

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PROTOCOL: Organised crime groups: A systematic review of individual‐level risk factors related to recruitment

Calderoni F, Superchi E, Comunale T, Campedelli GM, Marchesi M, Frualdo N.
Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2019; 15:e1022.

This systematic review has two main objectives:

  • Objective 1: Summarise the empirical evidence on the risk factors associated with the recruitment into OCG.
  • Objective 2: Assess the relative strength of the risk factors across different types of factors, types of OCGs, and countries.
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Life-Course Criminal Trajectories of Mafia Members

Campedelli, G. M., Calderoni, F., Comunale, T., & Meneghini, C.
Crime & Delinquency (2019)

Through a novel data set comprising the criminal records of 11,138 convicted mafia offenders, we compute criminal career parameters and trajectories through group-based trajectory modeling. Mafia offenders report prolific and persistent careers (16.1 crimes over 16.5 years on average), with five distinct trajectories (low frequency, high frequency, early starter, moderate persistence, high persistence). While showing some similarities with general offenders, the trajectories of mafia offenders also exhibit significant differences, with several groups offending well into their middle and late adulthood, notwithstanding intense criminal justice sanctions. These patterns suggest that several mafia offenders are life-course persisters and career criminals and that the involvement in the mafias is a negative turning point extending the criminal careers beyond those observed in general offenders.

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Evolutionary dynamics of organised crime and terrorist networks

Luis A. Martinez-Vaquero, Valerio Dolci & Vito Trianni
Scientific Reports 9, Article number: 9727 (2019)

Crime is pervasive into modern societies, although with different levels of diffusion across regions. Its dynamics are dependent on various socio-economic factors that make the overall picture particularly complex. While several theories have been proposed to account for the establishment of criminal behaviour, from a modelling perspective organised crime and terrorist networks received much less attention. In particular, the dynamics of recruitment into such organisations deserve specific considerations, as recruitment is the mechanism that makes crime and terror proliferate. We propose a framework able to model such processes in both organised crime and terrorist networks from an evolutionary game theoretical perspective. By means of a stylised model, we are able to study a variety of different circumstances and factors influencing the growth or decline of criminal organisations and terrorist networks, and observe the convoluted interplay between agents that decide to get associated to illicit groups, criminals that prefer to act on their own, and the rest of the civil society.

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Crime and Terror: Examining Criminal Risk Factors for Terrorist Recidivism

Badi Hasisi, Tomer Carmel, David Weisburd, Michael Wolfowicz
Journal of Quantitative Criminology (2019)

The number of individuals incarcerated for terrorism offences in the West has grown considerably in recent years. However, unlike the extensive literature on recidivism for ordinary criminal offenders, little is known about recidivism for terrorism offenders. Given that many terrorism offenders are to be released in the coming years, the Israeli case is used to explore possible insights into the recidivist characteristics of terrorism offenders. Using a unique dataset of terrorism offenders from Jerusalem provided by the Israeli Prison Service, proportional hazards regressions were used to assess the risk of terrorism-related recidivism for first-time and repeat terrorism offenders by examining factors related to incarceration history and other background factors known to be relevant for criminal recidivism.

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Prison and Violent Political Extremism in the United States

Gary LaFree, Bo Jiang & Lauren C. Porter
Journal of Quantitative Criminology (2019)

In the current study we consider the link between imprisonment and postprison participation in violent political extremism. We examine three research questions: (1) whether spending time in prison increases the post-release risk of engaging in violent acts; (2) whether political extremists who were radicalized in prison are more likely to commit violent acts than political extremists radicalized elsewhere; and (3) whether individuals who were in prison and radicalized there were more likely to engage in post-prison violent extremism compared to individuals who were in prison and did not radicalize there. We perform a two-stage analysis where we first preprocess the data using a matching technique to approximate a fully blocked experimental design. Using the matched data, we then calculate the conditional odds ratio for engaging in violent extremism and estimate average treatment effects (ATE) of our outcomes of interest.

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Simulazione Agent-Based dell’Affiliazione

Giulia Andrighetto, Francesco Calderoni, Gian Maria Campedelli, Tommaso Comunale, Badi Hasisi, David Weisburd, Michael Wolfowicz, Mario Paolucci
Proceedings of Ital-IA (First National Conference of the CINI AIIS Laboratory)
18-19 March 2019, Rome

(Publication in Italian)

Il Laboratorio per la Simulazione Sociale basata su agenti è in procinto di realizzare due simulazioni, informate da evidenza statistica ed empirica, dei processi di affiliazione e reclutamento per il crimine organizzato e per il terrorismo, mettendo a frutto una lunga esperienza nel settore degli agenti distribuiti ed eterogenei, che permettono di modellare i fenomeni sociali in modo più realistico.

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Interoceptive sensibility tunes risk-taking behaviour when body-related stimuli come into play

Gerardo Salvato, Gabriele De Maio & Gabriella Bottini
Scientific Reports 9, Article number: 2396 (2019)

In everyday life, we continuously make decisions, assuming the risk by making choices on material possessions or our body. Bodily signals may support the decision-making process, informing usabout possible outcomes. Sensibility for such internal bodily changes influences the way we perceive the environment, and it can boost the body-related stimuli processing. Thus, the question arises of whether the individual sensibility to interoceptive signals modulates decision-making in the presence of biological stimuli. To test this hypothesis, we administered 50 healthy subjects with the Balloon Analogue Risk Task, in which participants were required to inflate a virtual balloon, and a modified version of it, in which they inflated a virtual body. We found that interoceptive sensibility predicted risk taking behaviour only in the presence of body-related stimuli. Our results provided new evidence on the role of interoceptive sensibility in complex cognitive functions, such as risk-taking behaviour, which impacts the way we act within our society.

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Terrorism, adversity and identity. A qualitative study on detained terrorism suspects in comparison to other detainees

Inge Versteegt, Vanja Ljujic, Fatima El Bouk, Frank Weerman, Floor van Maaren
Amsterdam: NSCR (2018)

Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement brought together quantitative as well as a qualitative data on the characteristics and life histories of suspects of terrorist offenses in the Netherlands as well as quantitative and qualitative data on a control group of suspects from traditional criminal offenses. This report is an extensive presentation of the results of the qualitative study. It is intended as an elaboration of the relation between socio-economic deprivation, adversity and terrorism that has been reported in the literature and that was confirmed in our quantitative study.

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Protektive Faktoren gegen die Entwicklung von Extremismus und Radikalisierung – Eine systematische Auswertung internationaler Studien

Dorisa Bender, Sonja King, Friedrich Lösel, & Irina Jugl (2018)
In K. Boers & M. Schaerff (Eds.), Kriminologische Welt in Bewegung [Criminology in motion] (pp. 204-217). Möchengladbach: Forum Verlag (2018)

(Publication in German)

Bislang sind die Erkenntnisse der Resilienzforschung nur selten auf den Extremismus übertragen worden. Es gibt zwar Instrumente zur Risikodiagnose, die aber kaum protektive Faktoren berücksichtigen (King et al. 2018). Dass dies jedoch  sinnvoll ist, zeigen zum Beispiel Konzepte, die „shields of resilience“ gegen extremistische Entwicklungsprozesse thematisieren (Doosje et al. 2016). Aufgrund dieser Überlegungen befasst sich der vorliegende Beitrag mit protektiven
Faktoren gegen Extremismus, Radikalisierung und daraus resultierender Gewalt. Im Rahmen eines Forschungskonsortiums der Europäischen Union (PROTON) führen wir ein Teilprojekt zu protektiven Faktoren durch. Dazu gehört auch ein
systematischer Review der einschlägigen Forschung. Im Folgenden berichten wir kurz über erste Ergebnisse (ausführlicher Lösel et al. 2017).

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Countering Protection Rackets Using Legal and Social Approaches: An Agent-Based Test

Áron Székely, Luis G. Nardin, and Giulia Andrighetto
Complexity, Volume 2018, Article ID 3568085, 16 pages, 2018

Protection rackets cause economic and social damage across the world. States typically combat protection rackets using legal strategies that target the racketeers with legislation, strong sentencing, and increasing the presence and involvement of police officers. Nongovernmental organizations, conversely, focus on the rest of the population and counter protection rackets using a social approach. These organisations attempt to change the actions and social norms of community members with education, promotional campaigns, and discussions. We use an agent-based model, which draws on established theories of protection rackets and combines features of sociological and economic perspectives to modelling social interactions, to test the effects of legal and social approaches. We find that a legal approach is a necessary component of a policy approach, that social only approaches should not be used because they lead to large increases in violence, and that a combination of the two works best, although even this must be used carefully.

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Learning Dynamics and Norm Psychology Supports Human Cooperation in a Large-Scale Prisoner’s Dilemma on Networks

Realpe-Gómez, J., Vilone, D., Andrighetto G., Nardin L. G., Montoya, J. A.
Games 2018, 9, 90.

In this work, we explore the role of learning dynamics and social norms in human cooperation on networks. We study the model recently introduced in [Physical Review E, 97, 042321 (2018)] that integrates the well-studied Experience Weighted Attraction learning model with some features characterizing human norm psychology, namely the set of cognitive abilities humans have evolved to deal with social norms. We provide further evidence that this extended model—that we refer to as Experience Weighted Attraction with Norm Psychology—closely reproduces cooperative patterns of behavior observed in large-scale experiments with humans. In particular, we provide additional support for the finding that, when deciding to cooperate, humans balance between the choice that returns higher payoffs with the choice in agreement with social norms. In our experiment, agents play a prisoner’s dilemma game on various network structures: (i) a static lattice where agents have a fixed position; (ii) a regular random network where agents have a fixed position; and (iii) a dynamic lattice where agents are randomly re-positioned at each game iteration. Our results show that the network structure does not affect the dynamics of cooperation, which corroborates results of prior laboratory experiments. However, the network structure does seem to affect how individuals balance between their self-interested and normative choices.

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Protective Factors Against Extremism and Violent Radicalization: A Systematic Review of Research

Friedrich Lösel, Sonja King, Dorisa Bender & Irina Jugl
International Journal of Developmental Science 12 (2018) 89–102

Extremism and radicalization towards violence are urgent topics in many countries. Numerous research projects are carried out, of which many focus on risk factors only. In contrast, this article contains a systematic review of the rare international research on protective factors. After screening more than 2,000 documents, we found 17 reports containing 21 analyses that specifically addressed potential protective effects and provided quantitative data. Most studies addressed religious/ethnic extremism; far-right, far-left, and mixed forms were less frequent. Thirty different protective factors showed significant effects. Many were found in single analyses, but there were various replicated factors such as self-control, adherence to law, acceptance of police legitimacy, illness, positive parenting behavior, non-violent significant others, good school achievement, non-violent peers, contact to foreigners, and a basic attachment to society. Most findings are similar to what we know from more general research on youth violence, but there are also some protective factors that seem to be more specific, particularly with regard to religious/ethnic extremism. In conclusion, it is suggested to relate the topic of extremism and violent radicalization more strongly with other fields of developmental and life course criminology. For further progress on this path, more research on protective factors and integrated theoretical concepts are needed. This will also contribute to effective prevention.

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Preventing violent radicalization of youth through dialogic evidence-based policies

Aiello, E., Puigvert, L., & Schubert, T. (2018).
International Sociology, 33 (4), 435–453.

Radicalization of youth leading to violent extremism in the form of terrorism is an urgent problem considering the rise of young people joining extremist groups of different ideologies. Previous research on the impact of counter-terrorism polices has highlighted negative outcomes such as stigmatizing minority groups. Drawing on qualitative research conducted under the PROTON project (2016–2019) by CREA-UB on the social and ethical impact of counter-terrorism policies in six EU countries, the present article presents and discusses the ways in which actions characterized by creating spaces for dialogue at the grassroots level are contributing to prevent youth violent radicalization. The results highlight four core elements underlying these spaces for dialogue: providing guidance to be safe in the exploration of extremist messages and violent radicalization; the rejection of violence; that dialogue is egalitarian; and that relationships are built on trust so that adolescents and young adults feel confident to raise their doubts. If taken into account, these elements can serve to elaborate dialogic evidence-based policies. The policies which include a dialogue between the scientific evidence and the people affected by them once implemented, achieve positive social impact.

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Correlates of violent political extremism in the United States

Gary La Free, Michael A. Jensen, Patrick A. James, Aaron Safer-Lichtenstein
Criminology, 56 (2), 233–268 (2018)

Although research on terrorism has grown rapidly in recent years, few scholars have applied criminological theories to the analysis of individual‐level political extremism. Instead, researchers focused on radicalization have drawn primarily from political science and psychology and have overwhelmingly concentrated on violent extremists, leaving little variation in the dependent variable. With the use of a newly available data set, we test whether variables derived from prominent criminological theories are helpful in distinguishing between nonviolent and violent extremists. The results show that variables related to social control (lack of stable employment), social learning (radical peers), psychological perspectives (history of mental illness), and criminal record all have significant effects on participation in violent political extremism and are robust across multiple techniques for imputing missing data. At the same time, other common indicators of social control (e.g., education and marital status) and social learning perspectives (e.g., radical family members) were not significant in the multivariate models. We argue that terrorism research would benefit from including criminology insights and by considering political radicalization as a dynamic, evolving process, much as life‐course criminology treats more common forms of crime.

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What are the social, economic, psychological and environmental risk factors that lead to radicalization and recruitment to terrorism?

Yael Litmanovitz, David Weisburd, Badi Hasisi, Michael Wolfowicz
The Campbell Collaboration (2017)

The primary objectives of this systematic review are to provide information that can help in answering important questions regarding the risk factors associated with radicalization and recruitment to terrorism. Namely, the primary objectives of this review are to identify and collate the different macro and micro risk factors which are grounded in empirical research and for which there is evidence to support their characterization as risk factors, and for which there is evidence regarding the extent to which they are significant. The review aims to provide (where possible), meta-analyses of the different risk factors. As such, this review seeks to explore and identify:

1a) What are the social, economic, psychological, and environmental risk factors associated with radicalization?
1b) What are the social, economic, psychological and environmental risk factors associated with recruitment? What are the shared and differentiating risk factors for the two outcomes of radicalization and recruitment?
2) To what extent are identified risk factors significant and what are their effect sizes?

In addition, the review’s secondary objectives are to:

1) Provide guidance for a secondary systematic review that will focus on anti-radicalisation interventions and how risk factors can be mitigated.
2) Provide data and inputs in the form of effect sizes (such as risk ratios) to be used in the development of agent based modelling.

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What are the social, economic and psychological risk factors that lead to recruitment to organised crime groups?

Francesco Calderoni, Gian Maria Campedelli, Tommaso Comunale, Martina Marchesi, Alexander Kamprad
The Campbell Collaboration (2017)

As for the primary objectives, the review aims at exploring and investigating the following research questions:

1. What are the evidence-based social, economic and psychological driving factors and processes to recruitment to OCGs?

2. As regards the three driving factors, what are the most relevant risk factors?

3. Do evidence-based findings confirm the importance of social, economic and/or psychological factors as primary driving factors of recruitment to OCGs?

Furthermore, the secondary objective of this systematic review is to:

4. Use data to develop agent-based models.

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