The University of Southampton

Extremist Ideological Influences on Group Decision Making: IEXTREME

Knowledge Technologies, Web Science, e-Defence
U.S. Office of Naval Research

IEXTREME LogoThe IEXTREME project is a trans-Atlantic collaborative project, funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The project is a collaborative venture between the University of Southampton, Applied Research Associates and Rababy & Associates LLC, with Applied Research Associates acting as the prime contractor. The main goal of the IEXTREME project is to develop a better understanding of the ideological enablers associated with the behaviour of terrorist and insurgent groups. The National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism identifies extremist ideology as the enemy’s strategic center of gravity, and the Department of Defense (DoD) plays a significant role in establishing an environment unfavourable to extremist ideas, terrorist recruitment, and support. In spite of this, however, we have, as yet, little understanding of the specific ways in which extremist ideology contributes to various forms of terrorist action. IEXTREME aims to address this shortcoming by combining state-of-the-art approaches to cultural modelling with a variety of advanced knowledge technologies. The project builds on the scientific and technical outcomes of a number of previous projects, including SEMIOTIKS, MIMEX, ITA, ArtEquAKT and AKT.

The IEXTREME project is broken down into a number of separate, but inter-dependent, research and development activities:

  1. Cultural Model Development: Using state-of-the-art approaches to cultural model development, Applied Research Associates will develop qualitative models of both extremist and moderate religious groups. The aim here is to provide a cognitive characterization of groups in terms of their commitment to terrorist activities. Clearly, extremist and moderate groups can be distinguished in terms of their decision to commit acts of terrorism, but to what extent can this commitment be accounted for in terms of the specific beliefs and values of the group members? Furthermore, what role do beliefs and values play in legitimating terrorist action? Do specific beliefs serve to reinforce extremism by prohibiting a consideration of alternative ideologies? And can pre-existing beliefs effectively inoculate a religious community against the adoption of extremist ideologies? These are the kind of questions that the cultural modelling activity intends to explore. In developing cultural models, Applied Research Associates will rely on a technique called Cultural Network Analysis (CNA). CNA is a technique for developing cultural models that draws on ideas, methods and techniques from a variety of disciplines, including naturalistic decision making, cognitive anthropology, cognitive psychology, and decision analysis. CNA was developed by Applied Research Associates, and it has been used in a variety of application contexts. For example, it has been used to support the identification of cultural differences between US and UK military planners, to analyse the decision making processes of Middle Eastern crowd members, and to model the decision-making frameworks associated with nuclear terrorism.
  2. Cultural Ontology Development: Cultural models are intended to represent a group’s causally-relevant beliefs and values as they relate to a specific decision outcome, e.g. the decision to commit acts of terrorism. The conventional way of communicating such models is, however, somewhat informal, and this prohibits the effective exploitation of the models in automated processes. The aim of the cultural ontology development activity is to develop cultural ontologies that represent the content of cultural models in a form that is much more amenable to machine-based processing. The activity also seeks to extend and adapt the cultural ontologies developed in previous projects, such as the MIMEX project.
  3. Cultural Analysis System (CAS) Development: The University of Southampton will act as technical lead on the development of a technical demonstrator system to support the analysis of culture-relevant resources on the World Wide Web. The system will also be used to support a number of empirical evaluation studies. The CAS comprises a suite of knowledge processing and information visualization technologies. Together these technologies deliver the following capabilities:
    1. Ontology Visualization and Editing: The CAS will support the visualization and editing of cultural ontologies by providing access to state-of-the-art semantic browser interfaces and controlled natural language editors.
    2. Resource Classification: Building on the scientific and technical outcomes of the SEMIOTIKS project, the CAS will include a resource classification capability that capitalizes on the availability of semantically-enriched meta-data characterizations of resource content.
    3. Knowledge Extraction: The IEXTREME project will incorporate information extraction capabilities developed in the course of previous projects. One of these capabilities is demonstrated by the ArtEquAKT initiative, which was undertaken as part of the Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT) programme. ArtEquAKT relied on an ontology of artists and artistic works to support the extraction of relational information from a number of Web-based resources. A similar capability will be developed as part of the IEXTREME project to support the extraction of culture-relevant information from both Web-based and archival resources.
  4. Empirical Evaluation: The IEXTREME project includes a number of empirical evaluation activities which will be undertaken to assess the performance of the CAS's knowledge extraction and resource classification capabilities in the cognitive anthropological domain.

Together the scientific outcomes of the IEXTREME project are expected to deliver improvements in our understanding of the way in which extremist ideological influences support the behaviour of terrorist and insurgent groups. The project will also deliver a number of important technical outcomes. These include state-of-the-art approaches to resource classification, semantic annotation, knowledge extraction, and information visualization; ontologies to support the representation of culture-relevant information; and tools to support the entry and editing of cultural model content. All these outcomes will contribute to our understanding of the ideological enablers associated with the behaviour of terrorist and insurgent groups. They also provide insights into how the decision-making processes of terrorist organizations might be subverted as part of future counter-terrorism initiatives.

The IEXTREME project is due for completion in February 2012. The project is a collaborative research and development effort between the University of Southampton and Applied Research Associates.

Primary investigators

Secondary investigators

  • Winston R. Sieck
  • Louise Rasmussen


  • Applied Research Associates

Associated research group

  • Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia Group
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