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Fischer, Peter; Postmes, Tom; Koeppl, Julia; Conway, Lianne and Fredriksson, Tom (2011): The Meaning of Collective Terrorist Threat: Understanding the Subjective Causes of Terrorism Reduces Its Negative Psychological Impact. In: Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 26, No. 7: pp. 1432-1445 [PDF, 234kB]


This article hypothesized that the possibility to construct intellectual meaning of a terrorist attack (i.e., whether participants can cognitively understand why the perpetrators did their crime) reduces the negative psychological consequences typically associated with increased terrorist threat. Concretely, the authors investigated the effect of intellectual meaning (induced by providing additional information about potential economic, cultural, and historical reasons for the terrorist attack) on perceived terrorist threat and associated emotional well-being. Study 1 revealed that pictures of terrorist attacks elicited less experienced terrorist threat when they were presented with background information about the terrorists’ motives (meaning provided) rather than without additional background information (no meaning provided). Study 2 replicated this effect with a different manipulation of terrorist threat (i.e., newspaper article) and clarified the underlying psychological process: Participants in the high terror salience condition with meaning provided experienced less terrorist threat and thus more emotional well-being in the face of crisis than participants in the high terror salience condition without meaning provided. Theoretical and practical implications in the context of psychological health and mass media effects are discussed.

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