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How the Idea of Terrorism Is Changing Us

Publication date: 2020-09-18


Godefroidt, Amélie
Langer, Arnim ; Meuleman, Bart


How does terrorism affect citizens' social and political attitudes? And how can we explain differences in attitudinal reactions between individuals and across societies? Scholars, policymakers, and the public alike often assume that terrorism is effective to the extent it is able to influence the electorate. As a result, an impressive body of literature has accumulated—especially since the 9/11 attacks—on citizens' attitudinal responses to terrorism. Yet, most of these studies focus on individual-level explanations within Western or Israeli settings. How terrorism changes citizens across different, and especially within non-Western, societies remains unknown. By combining comparative research designs with an in-depth case-study of the Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria, this dissertation explores (1) how citizens across the globe react to terrorism, (2) how both citizen and perpetrator characteristics regulate such terrorisminduced reactions, and (3) how journalists are shaping an image of 'the terrorist enemy.' The findings suggests that it might not be terrorism as such that is changing citizens, but rather the idea of terrorism—an idea determined to a large extent by specificities of the intergroup context in which threats or acts of violence take place. In short, this dissertation is a multimethod and interdisciplinary story—straddling the fields of social and political psychology, political science, and media studies—about the formation of attitudes in times of terror. The findings are not only relevant for scholars studying how citizens respond to terrorism but also make substantial inroads in how the discipline studies terrorism effects and how various stakeholders can design effective strategies to counter potential democratic backlashes in times of terror.