Journal of Public Health Policy

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 219–245 | Cite as

Viewpoint: Terrorism and Dispelling the Myth of a Panic Prone Public

  • Ben Sheppard
  • G James Rubin
  • Jamie K Wardman
  • Simon Wessely


Governments and commentators perceive the public to be prone to panic in response to terrorist attacks – conventional or involving chemical, biological or radiological weapons. Evidence from five such incidents suggests that the public is not prone to panic, although people can change their behaviours and attitudes to reduce the risk of themselves being exposed to a terrorist incident. Behavioural responses may be divided into acts of omission, such as not making unnecessary journeys, and acts of commission, such as taking prophylactic medication despite the inherent risk of side effects. Evidence suggests that the public are aware of these differences, and tend to adopt responses proportionate to the risk. Drawing upon the literature in the social and natural sciences, our discussion encompasses differing risk perceptions of terrorist threats and consequences of attacks. How do fear and anxiety interact with behavioural responses to amplify or attenuate perceptions that can be modified through risk communication undertaken by authorities?


biological warfare chemical warfare panic terrorism 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben Sheppard
    • 1
  • G James Rubin
  • Jamie K Wardman
  • Simon Wessely
  1. 1.King's Centre for Risk Management, King's College LondonLondonUK

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