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The Quest for Significance

The human quest for meaning and personal recognition has been widely discussed by writers, philosophers, and psychiatrists. It is among the most powerful psychic forces that shapes the history and destiny of nations. Revolutions, such as the French, American, or the Russian; social movements, such as the civil rights, feminism, or Islamic fundamentalism, were driven by people who experienced loss of significance due to discrimination and prejudice. Thus feeling a need to restore their lost significance and to become on par with other groups in society.   Social psychologists dealt with the quest for significance in the study of achievement motivation, competence motivation, status striving,  and the dread of nonexistence. 

Papers, studies, and book chapters in this section address how the quest for significance is aroused, where it comes from, how it motivates human action, and what are its consequences.

Peer-Reviewed Papers

Webber, D., Molinario, E., Jasko, K., Gelfand, M.J., & Kruglanski, A.W. (in press). The Way They See Us: Intergroup Metaperceptions of Syrian Refugees. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.


Contu, F., Ellenberg, M. Kruglanski, A.W., & Pierro, A. (in press). People Act Extremely towards Their Amorous Partner When They Feel Insignificant. Personal Relationships.


Ellenberg, M., Speckhard, A., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2023). Beyond violent extremism: A 3N perspective of inceldom. Psychology of Men and Masculinities.


Kruglanski, A.W., Ellenberg, M., Szumowska, E., Molinario, E. Speckhard, A., Leander, N.P., Pierro, A. Di Cicco, G. & Bushman, B. (in press). Frustration-Aggression hypothesis reconsidered: The role of significance quest. Aggressive behavior. 


DiSanto, D. Pierro, A., Ellenberg, M., Baldner, C. & Kruglanski, A.W. (in press). By All Means Necessary: Closed Mindedness, Ingroup Morality and Weapon Ownership. European Journal of Social Psychology. 


Kaltenthaler, K., Kruglanski, A.W. & Knuppe, A.J. (in press). The Paradox of the Heavy-Handed Insurgent: Public Support for the Taliban Among Afghan Pashtuns. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.


Resta, E. Mollenberg, M., Kruglanski, A.W. & Pierro, A. (in press). Marie Curie vs. Serena Williams: Ambition Leads toExtremism through Obsessive (but not Harmonious) Passion. Motivation and Emotion. 


Kruglanski, A.W. & Ellenberg, M. (2020). The Quest for personal significance and ideological violence: A comment on Wortman, Yoder, & Decety (2020). AJOB Neuroscience, 11(4), 285-287. PDF


Jasko, K., Grzymala-Maoszczynska, J., Maj, M., Szastok, M. & Kruglanski, A.W. (2020). Making Americans feel great again? Personal significance predicts political intentions of losers and winners of the 2016 U.S. elections. Political Psychology, 41(4), 717-736. PDF

Leander, N. P., Kreienkamp, J., Agostini, M., Stroebe, W., Gordijn, E. H., & Kruglanski,  A. W. (2020). Biased hate crime perceptions can reveal supremacist sympathies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(32), 19072-19079. PDF

Leander, N.P., Agostini, M., Stroebe, W., Kreienkamp, J, Spears, R., Kuppens, T., Van  Zomeren, M., Otten, S., and Kruglanski, A.W. (2020). Frustration-affirmation? Thwarted goals motivate compliance with social norms for violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(2), 249–271. PDF

Jasko, K., Webber, D., Kruglanski, A. W., Gelfand, M., Taufiqurrohman, M.,  Hettiarachchi, M., & Gunaratna, R. (2019). Social context moderates the effects of quest for significance on violent extremism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(6), 1165–118.


Belanger, J. J., Kruglanski, A. W., & Kessels, U. (2019). On sin and sacrifice: How intrinsic religiosity and sexual-guilt create support for martyrdom. Psychological Research on Urban Society, 2(2), 66-75. PDF

Jasko, K., Szastok, M., Grzymala-Moszczynska, J., Maj, M., & Kruglanski, A. W.  (2019). Rebel with a cause: Personal significance from political activism predicts  willingness to self-sacrifice. Journal of Social Issues, 75(1), 314-349. PDF

Leander, N. P., Stroebe, W., Kreienkamp, J., Agostini, M., Gordijn, E., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2019). Mass shootings and the salience of guns as means of compensation for thwarted goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(5), 704–723. PDF

Molinario, E., Kruglanski, A. W., Bonaiuto, F., Bonnes, M., Cicero, L., Fornara, F., ... &  Degroot, W. (2019). Motivations to Act for the Protection of Nature Biodiversity and the Environment: A Matter of “Significance”. Environment and Behavior, 52(10), 1133-1163. PDF

Orehek, E., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2018). Personal failure makes society seem fonder: An inquiry into the roots of social interdependence. PloS one, 13(8): e0201361. PDF

Stroebe, W., Leander, N. P., & Kruglanski, A.W. (2017). Is it a dangerous world out there? The motivational bases of American gun ownership. Personality and Social Psychology BulletinPDF

Jasko, K., LaFree, G., & Kruglanski, A. (2017). Quest for significance and violent extremism: The case of domestic radicalization. Political Psychology, 38(5), 815-831. PDF

Dugas, M., Bélanger, J. J., Moyano, M., Schumpe, B. M., Kruglanski, A. W., Gelfand, M.  J., ... & Nociti, N. (2016). The quest for significance motivates self-sacrifice. Motivation Science, 2(1), 15. PDF

Book Chapters in Edited Books

Nowak, A., Gelfand, M.J., Borkowski, W., & Kruglanski, A.W. (2017). Autocratic  recidivism: Computational models of why revolutions fail. In Moadel, M., & Gelfand, M.J. (Eds). Values, Political Action and Change in the Middle East and the Arab Spring  (pp. 271-294). Link

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