Psychological Reactions to the National Terror-Alert System

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


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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