This is the Executive Summary of the Full Report from the CREST funded Constraining Violence project.

Research into factors that may reduce the likelihood or prevent people from becoming radicalised or engaging in terrorism is underdeveloped. This report provides an overview of how protective factors have been conceptualised and an evidence map identifying empirical studies that have contributed to the field.


  • Work on protective factors is in its infancy.
  • The majority of work has focused on risk factors, largely neglecting those factors which reduce the potential for negative outcomes or promote positive ones.
  • Paying greater attention to protective factors offers opportunities for more effective case management, including:
    • Enhancing rapport between individuals and clinicians.
    • Nurturing motivation in offenders.
    • Better support for intervention planning.
  • There is a lack of consensus around how protective factors should be conceptualised.
  • Approaches to protective factors have conceptualised them as:
    • Reducing risk factors.
    • The absence of risk factors.
    • Buffers that work to mitigate risk factors.
    • Conceptually distinct factors in their own right, unrelated to risk factors.
  • Researchers have emphasised that protective factors are likely to operate in complex ways, for example by exhibiting non-linear effects on risk factors, interacting with other factors, or changing over time.
  • These complexities have led to calls to view risk and protection holistically rather than as individual factors or in isolation.

Evidence Map

  • The evidence map is a visual guide based on 51 papers which analyse protective factors relating to violent extremist attitudes, intentions, and behaviours.  
  • The map should be seen as a top-level guide to the research landscape, which should be interpreted alongside the narrative summary of the evidence which lays out the complexities of the relationships and factors identified in the literature.
  • Relatively few studies set out to look at protective factors explicitly. Protective factors are typically identified as a by-product of research looking at risk factors.
  • Individual-level factors were the most common type of protective factor in the literature. These were further sub-divided into subgroups encompassing: psychological, socio-demographic, religious, activism and civic attachment factors.
  • Additional protective factors were identified under the headings of family, peers, school, and society.
  • There are caveats to the evidence map:
    • Research focused on different outcome variables, differentiating between extremist attitudes, intentions, and behaviours. Studies focused on extremist attitudes were most common.
    • In some cases, the relationships between factors and violent extremism described in the evidence map were not straightforward, for example the relationship between variables may not be linear or may be the result of an interaction between variables.
    • Studies often drew from very different contexts, with distinctive features unlikely to be present in other settings. This may limit the potential to generalise findings.

Theoretical Explanations

  • There was little theory in the evidence base which focused specifically on the idea of protection; the majority of theories related to radicalisation.
  • The theoretical accounts that have been developed offer some insight into the mechanics of risk and protective factors, seeking to explain why they are relevant rather than only identifying relationships.
  • Using these approaches to consider protective factors required some work to identify the implicit theories that seemed to inform individual studies.
  • Most theoretical explanations offered in the evidence base had some connection to criminology, including strain theory, anomie/a, social learning, and social control theories.
  • In general, the theoretical evidence suggests that the mechanics of radicalisation are fragile and dependent on the convergence of factors at different levels, suggesting that protective factors stem from limiting adversity, social and psychological mechanisms to deal with adversity that does arise, and insulation from extremist settings. 
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