Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 95–101 | Cite as

The Logic of Public Fear in Terrorism and Counter-terrorism



This paper attempts to do two things: to provide a summary overview of the ways in which the academic literature has tended to characterize the role of fear and psychological violence in the process of political terrorism and to advocate for counter-terrorism policies that recognize the importance of fear in this process and attempt to reduce this psychological response or, at least, to not exacerbate it. In completing these two tasks, I initially review the literature for discussions of the role of fear in both common definitions and theories of the use of terrorist violence. I then briefly draw upon the empirical findings of public opinion surveys and polls in the UK and US between 2001 and 2010 to illustrate this fear in practice. Finally, the paper concludes with the suggestion that both theories and real world observations point toward the idea that the most efficient form of counter-terrorism policy is one that mitigates levels of public fear.


Terrorism Counter-terrorism Fear Intimidation Public opinion 


  1. Allouche J, Lind J (2010). Public attitudes to global uncertainties. A research synthesis exploring the trends and gaps in knowledge. Accessed online (22/03/13):
  2. Altheide D (2006) Terrorism and the politics of fear. Cult Stud Crit Methodol 6:415–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berrebi C, Klor E (2008) Are voters sensitive to terrorism? Direct evidence from the Israeli electorate. Am Polit Sci Rev 102:279–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bleich A, Gelkopf M, Solomon Z (2003) Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and coping behaviors among a nationally representative sample in Israel. J Am Med Assoc 290:612–620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bleich A, Glekopf M, Melamed Y, Solomon Z (2006) Mental health and resiliency following 44 months of terrorism: a survey of an Israeli national representative sample. BMC Med 4:1–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braithwaite A, Foster D, Sobek D (2010) Ballots, bargains, and bombs: terrorist targeting of spoiler opportunities. Int Interact 36(3)Google Scholar
  7. Bueno de Mesquita E (2005) Conciliation, commitment, and counterterrorism. Int Organ 59:145–176Google Scholar
  8. Bueno de Mesquita E (2007) The quality of terror. Am J Polit Sci 49(3):515–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bueno de Mesquita B, Smith A, Siverson R, Morrow J (2004) The logic of political survival. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Carr C (1997) Terrorism as warfare: the lessons of military history. World Policy J 31:1–8Google Scholar
  11. Cohen Silver R, Holman EA, McIntosh DN, Poulin M, Gil-Rivas V (2002) Nationwide longitudinal study of psychological responses to September 11. J Am Med Assoc 288:1235–1244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crenshaw M (1981) The causes of terrorism. Comp Polit 13(4):379–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crenshaw M (1986) The psychology of political terrorism. In: Hermann MG (ed) Political psychology. Jossey-Bass, New York, pp 379–413Google Scholar
  14. Crenshaw M (1998) The logic of terrorism: terrorist behavior as a product of strategic choice. In: Reich W (ed) Origins of terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind. Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, pp 7–24Google Scholar
  15. Eubank W, Weinberg L (1994) Does democracy encourage terrorism? Terror Polit Violence 6(4):17–43Google Scholar
  16. Eubank W, Weinberg L (1998) Terrorism and democracy: what recent events disclose. Terror Polit Violence 10:108–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eubank W, Weinberg L (2001) Terrorism and democracy: perpetrators and victims. Terror Polit Violence 13:155–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fischoff B, Gonzalez R, Small D, Lerne J (2003) Judged terror risk and proximity to the World Trade Center. J Risk Uncertain 26(2–3):137–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Forest J (2006) The democratic disadvantage in the strategic communications battlespace. Democracy Secur 2(1)Google Scholar
  20. Frey BS, Luechinger D, Stutzer A (2009) The life satisfaction approach to valuing public goods: the case of terrorism. Public Choice 138:317–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Friedland N, Merari A (1985) The psychological impact of terrorism: a double-edged sword. Polit Psychol 6:591–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Furedi F (2005) Culture of fear. Continuum, LondonGoogle Scholar
  23. Galea S, Ahern J, Resnick H, Kilpatrick D, Bucuvalus M, Gold J, Vlahvov D (2002) Psychological sequelae of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. New Engl J Med 346:982–987PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Glassner B (2010) The culture of fear: why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Hewitt C (1993) Consequences of political violence. Dartmouth, AldershotGoogle Scholar
  26. Hoffman B (2006) Inside terrorism. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Huddy L, Feldman S, Tabar C, Lahav G (2005) Threat, anxiety, and support for antiterrorism policies. Am J Polit Sci 49(3):593–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Khalil L (2006) Public perceptions and homeland security. In: Forest JF (ed) Homeland security: protecting America’s targets, vol 2: public spaces and social institutions. Praeger Security International, Westport, CTGoogle Scholar
  29. Kydd A, Walter B (2002) Sabotaging peace: the politics of extremist violence. Int Organ 56:263–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kydd A, Walter B (2006) The strategies of terrorism. Int Secur 31(1):49–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lerner J, Gonzalez R, Small D, Fischhoff B (2003) Effects of fear and anger on perceived risks of terrorism: a natural field experiment. Psychol Sci 14(2):144–150PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Long E (1990) The anatomy of terrorism. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Mueller J (2006) Overblown: how politicians and the terrorism industry inflate national security threats, and why we believe them. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Nacos B (2005) Communication and recruitment of terrorists. In: Forest JF (ed) The making of a terrorist, vol 3: root causes. Praeger Security International, Westport, CTGoogle Scholar
  35. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) (2012) Global Terrorism Database [Data file]. Retrieved from
  36. Post J (2007) The key role of psychological operations in countering terrorism. In: Forest JF (ed) Countering terrorism in the 21st century, vol 1: strategic and tactical considerations. Praeger Security International, WestportGoogle Scholar
  37. Robbins J (2006) Soft targets, hard choices. In: Forest JF (ed) Homeland security: protecting America’s targets, vol 2: public spaces and social institutions. Praeger Security International, WestportGoogle Scholar
  38. Romanov D, Zussman A, Zussman N (2010) Does terrorism demoralize? Evidence from Israel. Economica II:1–16Google Scholar
  39. Schlenger WE, Caddell JM, Ebert L, Jordan BK, Rourke KM, Wilson D, Thalji L, Dennis JM, Fairbank JA, Kulka RA (2002) Psychological reactions to terrorist attacks: findings from the national study of Americans’ reactions to September 11. J Am Med Assoc 288:581–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schmid AP (1992) Terrorism and democracy. Terror Polit Violence 4:14–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schuster MA, Stein BD, Jaycox LH, Collins RL, Marshall GN, Elliott MN, Zhou AJ, Kanouse DE, Morrison JL, Berry SH (2001) A national survey of stress reactions after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. New Engl J Med 345:1507–1512PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wardlaw G (1982) Political terrorism. Cambridge University Press, WestportGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Government & Public PolicyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations