Date of Award

Fall 2006

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Ellen S Cohn


The extensive research into responses to terrorism has focused on the effects of individual characteristics on reactions to past terrorism events. This literature has largely omitted two issues: the impact of terrorism event features, and reactions to possible future terrorism events. The first purpose of this dissertation was to account for the effects of event features as well as subjective evaluations on responses to terrorism events. The second purpose of this dissertation was to compare reactions to past and future terrorism scenarios.

A series of actual and hypothetical written scenarios were presented to undergraduate psychology students, and various responses measured. A number of individual characteristics were also measured. Studies 1 and 2 served to identify type of weapon, number of victims, type of target, and level of disruption as specific features of terrorism events or threats that are salient to observers. Study 3 through 5 manipulated these features to examine their impact on responses. Study 3 found that weapon independently affected some responses to terrorism, and affected others in conjunction with the type of target. Study 3 also found that some individual characteristics were important after controlling for event features. Study 4 found that type of weapon interacted with the presence of an actual attack to impact responses to terrorism. Study 5 incorporated a series of subjective evaluations of each scenario, and found that these evaluations were not related to responses after accounting for event features and individual characteristics. Differences between Studies 3 and 5 also suggest differing responses to threats and attacks.

This dissertation reviews the relevant literature for responses to terrorism and perceptions of risk. Also, the results are discussed in relation to previous research, and several implications are outlined for emergency preparedness and response agencies. Implications for future studies and empirical extensions of this work are also discussed.