The staircase to terrorism is characterised as narrowing, suggesting that the individual is facing an increasingly limited set of alternatives for action, as s/he moves into the later stages of the model. This decision-based description is emphasised by Mogdahham, who postulated that terrorism constitutes a rational problem-solving strategy for individuals who go through the psychological processes on each step in the staircase to terrorism.
1) An increasing dissatisfaction with the social world; if the psychological interpretations of the individual's material conditions result in an experience of injustice, the individual continues to the next step. Relative deprivation theory is placed on the first step of the model, explaining the continuing movement up the staircase, something described as a result of unmet expectation.
2) The individual’s perceived opportunities for personal mobility to improve living, and experience of perceived procedural justice, emphasised by the inadequacy of, and threat against the individual’s identity. This aspect is covered in terror management theory, which proposes that threats against an individual or a group’s cultural worldview, will destroy the protective quality of the worldview against existential anxiety (Cohen et al., 2004). This existential anxiety derives from the salience of one’s own mortality; a person’s own cultural worldview and self-esteem works as an anxiety buffer against existential anxiety, and results in a motivation to defend these two factors. After several failed attempts at social mobility, this group of people will turn to other ways of improving their personal situation. This description is in keeping with rational choice theory (Crenshaw, 1992). If individuals on this stage in the process perceive themselves as unable to influence decision-making processes in society and increase their social status, they move up to step three in the staircase.
3) This step revolves around displacement of aggression. Individuals direct anger and frustration towards an external source, perceived to be responsible for the individual's poor situation. Mogdahham uses Freud’s theory on displaced aggression to explain how displacement of aggression is used through anti-Americanism, to avoid criticism against the government in several middle-eastern countries. If this is displayed, they move onto the next step
4) Individual enters the terrorist group and gradually engages in the moral reasoning and rationale of the terrorist organisation, disengaging from the government's moral guidelines.
5) An intensification of the 'us' vs 'them' and a perception of the terrorist organisation as legitimate; the individual also gains a specialist role in the organisation.
6) In this last step the individual is trained to kill, through training to avoid inhibitory mechanisms. The mechanisms contributing to the avoidance of inhibitory mechanisms are social categorisation and psychological distance.