Yes, you read that right - the very people you look to for comfort, for learning, for a shoulder to cry on, could lead you down the path of annihilation. You don't have to be a lemming zombie to take up terrorism after all!

A New Kind of Networking

Liverpool University's Center (or Centre, if you live across the pond) for Investigative Psychology led a project that constructed psychological "profiles" to describe how Jihadists were led into their violence, according to a BBC article.

A team interviewed 49 people convicted of bombing and killings using the "repertory grid" technique, a "method that allows an individual to express their understanding of themselves and the world around them by indicating who is important in their lives."

Professor David Cantor, director of the CIP, said in the article: "The work on pathways into terrorism indicates that it comes out of a social process; it comes out of a series of contacts that terrorists have with other individuals. ... These may be friends and associates; they may be members of their family. But more typically, they will be some sort of person they look up to, who may be a senior individual within a terrorist organisation, or maybe a teacher that they feel provides them with some feelings of self-worth and significance if they will take part in violent activity."

The two main pathways to terrorism, according to Cantor, are through atttachment to particular social groups who are on the fringes of terrorism; and through strong ideals or spiritual beliefs.

The idea that terrorists are zombies, "mindlessly following the orders of others," is replaced with a profile of "largely intelligent people finding direction in the networks of associates they keep."

"One of the most frightening things about terrorists is that they are remarkably normal and often reasonably well educated, and certainly no indication of mental disturbance in the way they deal with the world," Cantor said in the article.

Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden

Here's an example of a network leading to terrorism - on the Web site, the 9/11 hijackers are plotted using social network analysis. This isn't new - in 2006 a NY Times reporter wrote an article on the "conceptual paradigm changing how America's spies pursue terrorists: network theory."

But it's not just face time that connects you - in August, Microsoft researchers said that based on research from 30 billion instant messages sent during a single month in 2006, any two people on average are linked by seven or fewer acquaintances.

Introverts, this provides all the reason you need to stay away from strangers - why take a chance that you could be the key node for a new sleeper cell? Extroverts, well, keep your friends close, and your bomb shelter closer.