The psychology of martyrdom: Making the ultimate sacrifice in the name of a cause

Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Julie Caouette, Keren Sharvit, Michelle Dugas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Martyrdom is defined as the psychological readiness to suffer and sacrifice one's life for a cause. An integrative set of 8 studies investigated the concept of martyrdom by creating a new tool to quantitatively assess individuals' propensity toward self-sacrifice. Studies 1A-1C consisted of psychometric work attesting to the scale's unidimensionality, internal consistency, and temporal stability while examining its nomological network. Studies 2A-2B focused on the scale's predictive validity, especially as it relates to extreme behaviors and suicidal terrorism. Studies 3-5 focused on the influence of self-sacrifice on automatic decision making, costly and altruistic behaviors, and morality judgments. Results involving more than 2,900 participants from different populations, including a terrorist sample, supported the proposed conceptualization of martyrdom and demonstrated its importance for a vast repertoire of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral phenomena. Implications and future directions for the psychology of terrorism are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-515
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Cause
  • Martyrdom
  • Meaning
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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