Feelings of threat lead to restricted civil liberties


A study published in the latest issue of American Journal of Political Science examines how two different psychological reactions to terrorism (perceived threat and anxiety) play a role in the public's support of antiterrorist policies. The authors find that perceived threat increases a desire for retaliation and promotes animosity towards a threatening enemy. As the perception increased, people become more supportive of restricting the rights of groups broadly associated with terrorism and policies that limit the civil liberties for all citizens. Conversely, anxiety increases the desire to avoid risk and dangerous situations; it did not increase support for precautionary surveillance by the government.

The study focused on the individual feelings of the U.S., as a country, being at threat. More than 1,500 adults were surveyed via telephone in the post-September 11, 2001 time period between early October 2001 and early March 2002. Higher levels of perceived threat were also linked to greater support of U.S. military intervention and policies that would restrict the number of foreign visitors to the States and single out Arabs for special attention after entry. Threat also intensified negative stereotypes of Arabs. The authors found a clear link between anxiety and military opposition as well-- the opposite effect. Anxiety decreased approval of President Bush's handling of the situation, i.e. military action and overseas involvement. It also had no substantial impact on polices directed at Arabs or the endorsement of Arab stereotypes. "Over the long term, perceived threat provides the government with greater leeway to increase domestic surveillance and restrict civil freedoms in its fight against terrorism," the authors Leonie Huddy, Stanley Feldman, Charles Taber, and Gallya Lahav state.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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