Scott Atran spoke to Newsweek about the psychology behind Iranian support for the country’s nuclear program

January 14, 2010

Scott Atran spoke with Newsweek about Iranian support for the country’s nuclear program. Atran frames the issue using a concept from social psychology known as 'sacred value,' or a value that transcends what might be considered rational benefit-cost calculation. Atran, who has done extensive research on Islamic terrorist groups, notes that when an issue is imbued with sacred value, "standard political and economic proposals for resolving long-standing conflicts, such as just material compensation for suffering, may not be optimal." The article cites research Atran and his co-authors published in the December edition of Judgment and Decision Making. The researchers surveyed young Iranians and found that the country's nuclear program is "treated as sacred by some Iranians, leading to a greater disapproval of deals which involve monetary incentives to end the program." As a result, the authors caution the U.S. and other international negotiators that in their efforts to end Iran's nuclear ambitions, "a policy wholly based on a 'carrots and sticks' approach may actually backfire."