Psychological Reactions to the National Terror-Alert System

Michael Eric Kramer, Adam D. Brown, Lisa Spielman, Cezar Giosan, Michelanne Rothrock

Abstract


This study represents an exploratory assessment of the psychological reactions to changes in the national terror-alert level on a small sample of New York City disaster-relief workers. Upgrades in terroralert levels in this context are seen as official, governmental communications that call attention to the possibility (and probability level) of future terrorist threats. While research suggests that alarms and warnings can serve to effectively prepare individuals for future threats (e.g. weather advisories), their duration and perceived communicator reliability and validity depend on a number of variables (Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953; McGuire, 1967; Rogers and Mewborn, 1976; Zimbardo, 2003). Almost from the time of its inception, the Department of Homeland Security's terror-alert system has come under fire, among other things, failing to provide specific enough information about potential attacks and warnings to be meaningful indicators of threat and for failing to provide individuals with a concrete set of actions to take in response to heightened alert levels.

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References


Hovland, C.I., Janis, I.L., & Kelley, H.H. (1953). Communication and persuasion. New Haven:Yale University Press.

McGuire, W.J. (1967). The nature of attitudes and additude change. In: G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (eds.), The handbook of social psychology, vol.3. Reading: Addison-Wesley.

Rogers, R.W. & Mewborn, C.R. (1976). Fear appeals and attitude change: Effects of threat’s noxious-ness,probability of occurance, and the efficacy of coping responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 54-61.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2003). Political psychology of terrorist alarms. Retrieved May 15, 2003, from Division of Military Psychology, Division 19 of the American Psychological Association Web Site: http://www.apa.org/about/division/terrorism.html


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