The latest research on terror: How people react.
Terrified hostages are led to safety during the Charlie Hebdo attack in
Paris earlier this year. What effect does exposure to terror violence
have on you and I over the next months and years?
Obviously, the initial reaction is shock and horror. What these studies address is how people react in the weeks and months post terrorism.
As writers, how people react to any situation is the staple of our work. Knowing how Joe Average responds gives us the insight to build a different reaction in a character. While most of us are appalled and horrified, perhaps your character is enthralled with the reaction an act causes. Or is crippled by empathy and sorry, or even turned on sexually. These different reactions play off the reaction of the crowd.
As you might assume, some people recover quickly and go about their lives essentially unaffected, while others change, giving up some favorite activities. Why is this? That's what this research addresses.
A topic of interest to writers and to our population as a whole. As always, links to the various studies are included in the attribution.
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Consumers will covet control after terrorism strikes
If terror strikes increase in the United States, some consumers will keep buying as they always have, but others will withdraw from certain markets to minimize their risk. "The key issue we've identified is, 'Do you feel like you can control the odds of becoming a victim, should a terrorist attack occur?'" said Steven S. Posavac of Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, one of three authors of the article "Living with Terrorism or Withdrawing in Terror: Perceived Control and Consumer Avoidance."
Co-written with Michal Herzenstein of the University of Delaware and Sharon Horsky of Bar-llan University in Israel, the article was published in the July/August 2015 issue of Journal of Consumer Behaviour.
To gauge the effects of fear of terrorism, the researchers did much of their research in Israel.
"We started in Israel because what happens in Israel is a good bellwether for the United States if terrorism would increase," said Posavac, E. Bronson Ingram Professor in Marketing at the Owen School.
According to the study, "almost all informants changed their behavior following terror attacks." Some altered their consumption choices in extreme ways, for example quitting eating out because restaurants are often targeted by suicide bombers. Others made more subtle changes that allowed them to live without much disruption, for example, continuing to dine out but asking to sit near the kitchen so they could make a quick exit in the event of an attack.
Controlling the Danger
Individuals who believed that they could control whether they would become a victim in the event of an attack continued to live their lives without much change. Yair, a 31-year-old man who drives to Tel Aviv every morning for work, said he altered his driving strategy to keep his distance from buses so he felt safer. Often buses are targeted by terrorist bombers.
"I just let a few other cars get between me and the bus, and that way if something happens, I will be safe because of the buffer zone I created," he said. "If you're at least two-three cars away from the bus, you're safe."
Loss of Control = Behavior Changes
People who felt that they had no control whether they would be hurt should an attack occur displayed the most extreme behavioral changes. Maya, a 28-year-old professional who personally witnessed an attack, said, "After a while my friends realized I'm not the same person. I don't like to go out anymore. I only want to stay at home. I was really only hurt minimally but the horror I've seen with my own eyes will never leave me."
Consumers like Maya would drive up demand for products like food-delivery services and video-streaming equipment after a terrorist event because these products allow consumers to avoid public places that are attractive to terrorists, Posavac said.
"When consumers believe they have some control over the odds of victimhood in an attack, their behaviors are not materially affected by terrorism threats," Posavac said. "However, when consumers perceive that the odds of victimhood are uncontrollable, their behavior changes and they become avoidant, abandoning their preferences in the hopes of avoiding the public contexts where most terrorism occurs."
Although the United States has experienced far less terrorism than Israel, the desire for control was expressed in increases gun sales here after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks, they note.
"Our research is conducted to try to stay one step ahead of current events," Posavac said. "There haven't been enough attacks in the United States for it to change consumer behavior on a whole scale level, but this could change very quickly."
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Fear of terrorism increases resting heart rate, risk of death
A new study of over 17,000 Israelis has found that long-term exposure to the threat of terrorism can elevate people's resting heart rates and increase their risk of dying. This is the first statistics-based study, and the largest of its kind, which indicates that fear induced by consistent exposure to the threat of terror can lead to negative health consequences and increase the risk of mortality.
It is well-documented that international terror outbreaks involve mass psychological trauma, leading to long-term mental health risks to the exposed population. Previous studies have also shown that in the short term, sudden stressful situations such as earthquakes can increase a person's heart rate and their risk of having a heart attack.
However, whether long-term exposure to the threat of terror can lead to physical health risks in the exposed population has until now remained unknown.
To better understand the health risks associated with the fear of terror, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem examined the factors affecting basal (resting) heart rates, and studied how these rates changed over the years during annual checkups of healthy Israeli subjects. Israel has been exposed to the repeated stress of multiple wars and terror attacks for over 60 years, with a major impact on the entire society.
Together with Prof. Yaacov Ritov at the Hebrew University's Department of Statistics and Center for Rationality, researchers studied 17,300 healthy subjects who underwent an annual general medical exam including blood tests, heart rate and stress tests at the Tel Aviv Medical Center each year. The 10,972 men and 6,408 women in the study were apparently healthy employees attending periodic routine health examinations during the years 2002'2013.
The questionnaire covered a wide range of occupational, psychological, and physical factors, including body mass index, blood pressure, fitness, smoking, psychological well-being, anxiety, and fear of terror.
"We wanted to test whether fear of terrorism can predict an increase in pulse rate and increased risk of death," explains Prof. Soreq.
By combining the medical exam data with the questionnaire responses, the researchers found that basal heart rate was affected by physiological characteristics, such as level of physical fitness and inflammation index reflecting the activity of the immune system.
In contrast, an ongoing increase in heart rate was also influenced by psychological characteristics such as fear of terrorism. Through a statistical analysis of 325 different parameters, the researchers found that fear of terror was a major contributor to annual increases in resting heart rate, with 4.1% of study participants suffering from an elevated fear of terror that predicted an increase in their resting heart rates.
While a heartbeat of 60 beat per minute is normal, an increase of up to 70-80 beats per minute was observed in subjects who exhibited an increased fear of terrorism. In other words, for people with an elevated fear of terror, the heart beats faster and the associated risk of heart disease is higher.
Elevated resting heart rate is a predictor of death from cardiovascular disease and death across all causes. As people age, the resting heart rate typically decreases from year to year, and people whose heart rate actually increases annually are more susceptible than others to heart attacks and strokes.
The researchers also examined how the brain alerts the body to the expectation of danger. They administered a blood test to examine the function of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in responses to stress and which acts as a brake to the inflammatory response.
The results showed that the fear of terror leads to a decline in the function of acetylcholine, and thus reduces the body's ability to defend itself from a heart attack, leading to a greater chance of dying.
"We found that fear of terrorism and existential anxiety may disrupt the control processes using acetylcholine, causing a chronic accelerated heart rate. Together with inflammation, these changes are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke," Prof. Soreq said.
The researchers also found that levels of C-reactive protein, a biomarker for inflammation, were elevated in those volunteers who fear terror and show escalated pulse. This finding further suggests that long-term exposure to terror threats may combine with inflammation to elevate resting heart rates and thus increase the risk of mortality.
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Threats of terrorism perceived differently
depending on identification within a group
People who see their group as more homogenous -- for instance, the more one thinks Americans are similar to each other -- are less likely to be influenced by external terrorist threat alerts, according to research from NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
"Among people who viewed their group to be homogeneous, external threat did not translate to higher perceived threat, and they did not influence beliefs about the legitimacy of the U.S. military intervention in Iraq," said study author Rezarta Bilali, assistant professor of psychology and social intervention at NYU Steinhardt.
The findings suggest that people interpret terrorist threats in very different ways.
Terrorist threats communicated through mass media, government agencies, and other sources influence levels of perceived threat. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the U.S. government created a color-coded warning system to alert Americans to the level of threat facing the country. From 2002 through the system's dissolution in 2011, the warning level never dropped below "yellow," a three out of five on the alert scale.
Bilali's study examined the effect of external cues of security or threat -- manipulated by the researchers -- on perceived threat and legitimization of the U.S.'s war in Iraq, based on a person's identification with being American and beliefs about the degree to which Americans are similar to each other.
The study, conducted in two stages, included 147 American university students. In the first stage, participants completed questionnaires measuring their identification with their American nationalities, and whether they perceived Americans to be similar to each other or different.
A few months later, participants completed additional tasks for the study's second stage. In one task, the participants read a fake newspaper article that was manipulated to communicate either security or a threat to America. Subsequently, participants completed questionnaires to gauge their opinions on the war in Iraq and whether they agreed with the U.S.'s decision to intervene.
Bilali found that participants legitimized the U.S. military intervention in Iraq to a higher degree when they were exposed to threat cues versus when they were made to believe that the U.S. is safe from terrorism. She found that participants who saw their group to be unlike each other were more likely to perceive greater threat when exposed to external terrorist threats, and they were more likely to legitimize the U.S.'s involvement in the war in Iraq. By contrast, individuals who viewed their group to be homogeneous -- in other words, viewed Americans to be like them and similar to each other -- were less likely to perceive heightened threat when they read about a terrorist threat to the U.S.
"Perceiving the group as similar to one another seems to disrupt the expected relationship between external cues of threat and subjective perceptions of threat," Bilali said. "There's some evidence that homogeneity is related to increased feelings that you can cope with a disastrous event, so these results can be interpreted by looking at the role of homogeneity in increasing the perceived ability to cope with threats toward the group."
The results shed light on the potential impact of terror warning systems and media influence on different segments of the population.
"While the study creates more questions than answers, it suggests that terror threat alerts are not affecting everyone equally," Bilali said.
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Attitudes towards security threats uncovered
Terrorism is not perceived as the most important threat to everyday life despite claims by policy makers. Politics researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Exeter led detailed focus groups across the UK and conducted a nationwide survey as part of an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project which looked at public attitudes towards security threats.
This project used focus groups and an internet survey to identify whether people agree with, or are even aware of, the government's attempts to make them feel more secure and whether these attempts have any impact.
Dr Nick Vaughan-Williams from the University of Warwick said: "Focus groups told us that they understand 'security' to be first and foremost about physical threats to personal safety. Respondents rarely talked about security threats in national terms and most disagreed with the government's priorities in the 'National Security Strategy'.
"In particular, terrorism was not perceived to be a significant threat to individuals, families, and communities. Interviewees were more concerned about social disorder, Islamaphobia, the far right, and UK foreign policy -- issues not commonly thought of as security threats in academic and policy making circles."
The UK government usually views security threats in a national context, whereas respondents tended not to think in these terms unless prompted to do so.
The survey research found that people tend to perceive security threats across a range of different levels: global, national, community, family and individual. Rarely was there one overriding threat, such as the global threat of terrorism, as the public identified multiple threats at the same time. The single biggest threat identified at all levels -- global, national, community, family and individual -- was the economic crisis, with 17% of respondents, with only 3% of respondents citing terrorism as a threat at all different levels.
The online survey and focus groups gauged the views of a diverse sample of social, multi ethnic and religious backgrounds. It showed that people who see more national threats tend to be more intolerant of minorities and have a stronger white identity, while people who perceive threats as global are more tolerant of minorities and have a weaker white identity. These differences extend to policy preferences, where more global threats appear to favour solutions such as international aid over straightforward security policies, whereas perceptions of more national threats led to a preference for enhanced security measures.
Dr Daniel Stevens from the University of Exeter explained: "There has been an assumption that 'threat is threat' and that feeling threatened has a host of effects on political attitudes such as making people less tolerant, more aggressive, and more likely to stereotype groups. But our research suggests this is not the case: people who see more threats to the world actually appear to be more tolerant and less likely to stereotype. This suggests that identifying threats beyond national borders -- although they are still threats -- reflects a different political outlook and therefore has different consequences.
"Overall, the research highlights multiple insecurities and implies the need for new ways of thinking about 'national security in policy and practice."
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Gender differences: Viewing TV coverage of
terrorism has more negative effect on women
terrorism has more negative effect on women
Exposure to television coverage of terrorism causes women to lose psychological resources much more than men, which leads to negative feelings and moodiness. This has been shown in a new study, conducted at the University of Haifa and soon to be published in Anxiety, Stress & Coping, that examined the differences between men and women in a controlled experiment environment.
An earlier study conducted by Prof. Moshe Zeidner of the Department of Counseling and Human Development at the University of Haifa and Prof. Hasida Ben-Zur of the University of Haifa's School of Social Work, has shown that viewing television coverage of terrorism causes viewers to lose psychological resources, such the sense of significance or success, and causes a feeling of being threatened. The current study set out to examine whether there are differences between men and women in the levels of psychological resource loss.
According to the authors of the new study, earlier research dealing with gender differences in the effects of traumatic events examined data based on questionnaires relating to past experiences. The present study is now taking a new step as it is examining these differences in a controlled experiment environment in which all of the participants are exposed to the same events and report on their feelings immediately following the events.
In order to create such a controlled environment, men and women were shown news video clips reporting on terrorist attacks that took place over the past few years and which resulted in serious casualties. In parallel, two other groups of men and women were shown news coverage of "regular," everyday news events.
The results of this study show that the women who viewed terrorism coverage testified to higher levels of feeling threatened and lower levels of psychological resources compared to the men who viewed the same news reports. These gender differences were not found amongst the control groups. The study has also found that the feeling of being threatened and loss of resources has an effect on the senses and lead to a higher level of negativity, such as hostility and moodiness.
"It is possible that the differences between men and women are founded in gender socialization, 'teaching' women to respond to terrorism with more anxiety than men," said Prof. Moshe Zeidner.
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Sept. 11 Terrorism Continues To
Impact Mental Health Of Americans
Long after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans' terrorism-related thoughts and fears are associated with increased depression, anxiety, hostility, posttraumatic stress and drinking, University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have found.
UIC researchers examined the extent to which the strength of people's post--Sept. 11 beliefs and fears, as assessed in 2003, predicted a range of psychological distress and alcohol abuse in 2005. Data were derived from a mail survey, which began before Sept. 11 and continued in 2005.
The study, led by Judith Richman, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry, is published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Public Health Association.
Richman and her colleagues measured the effect of larger, macro-level sociological stressors -- rather than personal or micro-level events, such as a death in the family or financial difficulties -- on mental health.
The terrorist events of Sept. 11 signaled a significant change in the socio-political outlook of many Americans and in their feelings of safety and well-being.
Richman and others have shown that the events of Sept. 11 have been associated with feelings of distress and anxiety, and these feelings have led to problematic drinking. However, previous research focused on distress at the time of the traumatic event, and predictions about future negative behaviors were hard to assess.
In the new study, 30 percent of participants reported feeling very or extremely more pessimistic about world peace, and 27.6 percent reported they had less faith in the government's ability to protect them.
"Our research showed that, four years after 9/11, terrorism fears and beliefs predicted distress and escape motives for drinking similarly in both men and women, with only men showing an increase in deleterious drinking levels," Richman said. She also indicated that macro socio-political events such as acts of terrorism and large-scale disasters and their effects on distress levels should be considered in future research.
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Disabled And Other Vulnerable Groups
More Susceptible To Terrorism Fears
Research has shown that certain marginalized groups -- including the mentally ill, the disabled and ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Latinos -- fare worse than others in the aftermath of natural disasters, suffering disproportionate impoverishment, injuries and fatalities. Now a new study has found that they also experience greater terrorism-related fears and make more behavioral changes based on those fears -- such as avoiding certain activities -- than others.
"It also shows," he added, "that the HSAS color-coding is misjudged by citizens, and the same persons who have the most fear and avoid activities are also misjudging it."
The findings are based on random-digit dial surveys conducted in in six languages in Los Angeles County between October 2004 and January 2005. Respondents were asked the color of the country's alert level at that time, as well as how often they worried about terrorist attacks and how often they avoided activities because of those fears.
Researchers found that the mentally ill, the disabled, African Americans, Latinos, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans and non-U.S. citizens were likelier to think the HSAS alert level was higher than it was, and to worry more and change their behavior due to those fears.
These findings present evidence that the structure of the HSAS alerts need to be reevaluated — in part to ensure that terrorism alerts better reach these vulnerable populations, Eisenman said. Also, vulnerable groups need assistance to help them reduce their fears and avoidance. Ensuring that structures can be safely evacuated in the event of a terrorist act, for example, can help reduce some of these fears among the physically disabled.
"Terrorism-related fears and avoidant behavior can be considered part of the 'disaster burden' — the amount of adverse health effects ranging from loss of well-being or security to injury, illness or death caused by a disaster associated with terrorism and national terrorism policies," the researchers conclude. "The disaster burden associated with terrorism and consequent policies may fall disproportionately on the vulnerable groups we studied."
- Materials provided by Vanderbilt University, original written by Jim Patterson. Michal Herzenstein, Sharon Horsky, Steven S. Posavac. Living with terrorism or withdrawing in terror: Perceived control and consumer avoidance. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 2015.
- Materials provided by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shani Shenhar-Tsarfaty, Nadav Yayon, Nir Waiskopf, Itzhak Shapira, Sharon Toker, David Zaltser, Shlomo Berliner, Ya'acov Ritov, Hermona Soreq. Fear and C-reactive protein cosynergize annual pulse increases in healthy adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014.
- Materials provided by New York University. Rezarta Bilali. Do terrorist threat alerts increase perception of threat and legitimization of in-group's wars? The moderating role of perceived in-group homogeneity. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2014.
- Materials provided by University of Warwick. "Attitudes towards security threats uncovered." ScienceDaily, 28 November 2012.
- Materials provided by University of Haifa. Hasida Ben-Zur, Moshe Zeidner. Gender differences in loss of psychological resources following experimentally-induced vicarious stress. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 2011
- Materials provided by University of Illinois at Chicago. University of Illinois at Chicago. "Sept. 11 Terrorism Continues To Impact Mental Health Of Americans." ScienceDaily, 13 February 2008.
- Materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Eisenman et al. Terrorism-Related Fear and Avoidance Behavior in a Multiethnic Urban Population. American Journal of Public Health, 2008.