Published September 3, 2013
“The Political Psychology of Terrorism Fears,” co-edited with Samuel J. Sinclair, will be released in late August.
According to the publisher, Oxford University Press, “this book presents empirical and theoretical frameworks for understanding fear as a dynamic process that motivates and affects people on a myriad of levels.”
The book analyzes the various ways that individuals and societies respond to terror alerts and news foretelling terror events.
In a given community, firsthand experience with a terror event, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, can lead to increased susceptibility to future terror threats and heightened levels of anxiety and depression, Antonius says.
“One might expect people in Boston, or at least the city’s more vulnerable populations, to experience heightened levels of worry, fear, avoidance and possibly anger,” he explains.
While such symptoms likely won’t reach the level of a psychiatric disorder, “they may influence how people carry out their daily activities, such as avoiding public transportation or air travel, being in public or in large crowds,” he notes.
Even in Boston, though, the likelihood that large segments of the population would experience such fears in light of elevated threat levels is low, he says.
“Due to our biologically built-in resilience to trauma, most people are not likely to experience negative symptoms, at least not consciously,” Antonius says.
However, certain people are more susceptible to terror threats, including those already prone to mental health problems, people with disabilities and immigrants.
Sometimes, terrorism fears can lead to positive outcomes, such as strengthening a society’s resilience, notes Antonius, a forensic psychologist who studies terrorism, violence and aggression.
In the book, he identifies “level of trust in government” as a significant factor determining societal reactions.
For example, after 77 people were murdered in a 2011 terror attack in Norway, researchers there presented compelling evidence that a high level of institutional trust may have served as a protective factor for Norwegians, Antonius says.
Thus, a terror event may lead to a remobilization of existing trust relationships, resulting in an increased sense of national togetherness, he explains.
Antonius’ previous book, “The Psychology of Terrorism Fears,” co-authored with Sinclair, highlights this paradox of fear in the context of terrorism.
“Fear can negatively affect people and societies, but can also be a central force underlying resilience and post-traumatic growth,” he concludes.