The Political Psychology of Counterterrorism
Posted: 6 Nov 2013
Date Written: November 2013
In the past decade, legal scholars have developed an extensive corpus of doctrinal and normative work on national policy responses to terrorism. At the same time, political and social psychologists have tested a diverse range of theories concerning how perceptions of terrorism risk affect individual and aggregate behaviors such as electoral choices and preferences over public policies. The legal scholarship, with a handful of exceptions, does not draw on this empirical literature about the “demand” for counterterrorism. In consequence, its descriptive and normative claims tend to lack warrant in any defensible account of the political psychology of counterterrorism. To begin remedying that gap, this review explores insights from the empirical literature on the psychology of individual and collective responses to terrorism in order to better comprehend the political motivations that underwrite counterterrorism policy choices. Three lines of inquiry are highlighted: how individuals perceive and process terrorism risk information, how political and policy preferences change after terrorism attacks, and how counterterrorism tactics can alter patterns of individual behavior.
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