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University of Kent
Sample size: 1050
Field period: 04/22/2011-08/11/2011
Terrorist attacks elicit strong emotional reactions. We argue that the ubiquitous threat of terrorist attacks likewise motivates emotional reactions which elicit functional behavioral responses to characteristics of a threatening group. We argue that anger arises the more the threatening group is seen acting unjustly, whereas fear arises the more the group is seen as powerful, and that both emotions elicit behaviors aimed at preventing harmful action. Our experiment used a nationwide representative sample of US residents who read and responded to descriptions of terrorist groups. As expected, the manipulation of injustice predicted anger, while power increased fear. Anger and injustice were related to increased support for offensive and defensive measures against the group in both experiments. Injustice perceptions (but not anger) reduced willingness to negotiate, while fear increased it. These findings have implications for predicting and modifying likely public reactions to terrorist groups and acts.
1. Manipulations of power will increase primarily the emotion of fear.
2. Manipulations of injustice, via both intent and unprovoked nature of attacks, will increase primarily the emotion of anger.
3. Fear will predict the tendency to defend against the group and negotiate.
4. Anger will predict the tendency to attack.
2 x 3 design: Power (2 levels, varying description of the resources of the terrorist group) x Injustice (3 levels, varying description of the motivation of the terrorist group: high injustice = hostility towards US, moderate injustice = revenge at US for exploitation, low injustice = harm toward US is incidental to other aims)
Fear and anger toward terrorist group; judgments of its power, intentionality, injustice, and unprovoked nature; action tendencies to attack, defend against, and negotiate with the group.
1. Data strongly supported the hypothesis that higher power of the terrorist group, and not the injustice manipulation, predicted fear when controlling for anger.
2. Data strongly supported the hypothesis that higher injustice of the terrorist group, and not its power, predicted anger when controlling for fear. However, the effect was not continuous across all three levels of the manipulation. Participants did not distinguish between hostility that was provoked and unprovoked; both levels showed equally high anger and action tendencies. The effects of the injustice manipulation were due instead to the contrast between unintentional and intentional descriptions.
3. Anger positively predicted the tendency to support attacking the terrorist group and negatively predicted the tendency to support negotiation. Unexpectedly, it also positively predicted the tendency to support defending against the group.
4. Fear only positively predicted the tendency to support negotiation.
The British data come from a major survey of foreign policy attitudes, funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (RES 062-23-1952), into which these and other experiments were embedded. By the end of 2012, the data will be archived and available via the Economic & Social Data Service (www.esds.ac.uk).
Giner-Sorolla, R., & Maitner, A. T. (2012). Angry at the unjust, scared of the powerful: Emotional responses to terrorist threat. Unpublished manuscript (under review), University of Kent.