How terrorism affects our attitudes
THIS ARTICLE/PRESS RELEASE IS PAID FOR AND PRESENTED BY NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology – Read more
Some types of terrorist acts affect people much more than others. Islamist violence apparently produces the strongest counter-reactions.
Many studies have investigated how terrorism affects people. A new large meta-study has compiled the results of 325 previous studies to tease out some overall findings across settings. The meta-study includes responses from more than 400,000 people.
“To some extent, terrorism is linked to hostile attitudes towards other ethnic groups, political conservatism and heightened patriotism towards the state,” says Amélie Godefroidt, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology and Political Science at NTNU .
Terrorism thus contributes – admittedly to a small but nevertheless significant extent – to individuals developing stronger prejudices against cultures other than their own and rallying to what they perceive as traditional values of their own culture.
The definition of terrorism varies considerably
The extent of terrorism varies from year to year and is both a matter of definition and depends on the eyes that witness it. But no matter how you calculate itmany more people die in terrorist attacks in non-Western countries.
A study claims that 95% of terrorism-related deaths worldwide in recent years have taken place in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Although deaths resulting from terrorist acts represent far less than one in a thousand of all deaths in the world, and only up to a few percent in the most seriously affected areas, terrorism has an impact on the vision of the world and the attitudes that many of us have.
Low risk, but many people are afraid
In other words, the risk of being the victim of a terrorist attack is minimal most places. Nevertheless, researchers have shown in the past that more than half of the population of certain countries fear being the victim of terrorists.
In the United States, for example, about 40% of the population fears that their family will be affected by terrorism, whereas the risk is probably more like 1 in 3.5 million. This result does not include attacks such as school shootings and similar actions, which are considered other criminal activities.
The strongest reactions produced by Islamist violence
The results of the studies that have now been compiled were collected between 1985 and 2020. The research does not present a clear picture, however, as not all terrors work the same way.
Godefroidt points out that the effect of terrorism varies considerably.
Some types of terrorism lead to more obvious counter-reactions than others.
“Islamist violence systematically generates stronger reactions than other types of terrorism. People in Israel and the United States generally react more strongly to terrorism than people in other countries. And following the Islamist attacks, people become particularly hostile towards foreigners who make them think of Islam, such as Arabs or refugees,” explains Godefroidt.
We don’t know a lot about terrorism
The meta-study also shows that there is still a lot we don’t know about the effect terrorism has on us. Although many studies have been conducted on terrorism, some areas have yet to be thoroughly researched.
“We found several gaps in our current knowledge, including a lack of research on non-Islamist terrorism and conducted in non-Western countries,” says Godefroidt.
The study thus reveals several areas that more researchers need to address in order to get a more complete picture of how terrorism affects us.
“Among other things, we need more research on terrorism from far-right people. We also need to conduct more research on non-Western countries that are among the places that suffer the most from terrorist attacks, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan,” says Godefroidt.
A. Godefroidt. How terrorism affects (and does not affect) citizens’ political attitudes: a meta-analysis, American Journal of Political Science2022. DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12692