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Psychological aspects of terrorism Barbara Juen Michael Lindenthal Austrian Red Cross; University of Innsbruck.

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Presentation on theme: "Psychological aspects of terrorism Barbara Juen Michael Lindenthal Austrian Red Cross; University of Innsbruck."— Presentation transcript:

1 Psychological aspects of terrorism Barbara Juen Michael Lindenthal Austrian Red Cross; University of Innsbruck

2 Psychological aspects of terrorism 2 ESCI-2008 From a psychological point of view, Terrorism aims at …  Creating -Mass anxiety -Helplessness, demoralisation -Social disruption  Demonstrating -Impotence and incompetence of the authorities

3 Psychological aspects of terrorism 3 ESCI-2008 Motivating factors (Alexander, 2006) RevengeRenownReaction AtrocitiesPublicityExcessive security InjusticesMartyrdom Over-reactions Humiliation Glory Social conflict

4 Psychological aspects of terrorism 4 ESCI-2008 Differences between terrorist attacks and natural disasters  Shattered assumptions of world and especially about other persons – more loss of trust in world and others after terrorist attacks than after natural disasters  Higher impact on a larger group of persons; also those who were not really near the event or lost somebody may show severe stress reactions (especially when nuclear/biological/chemical weapons are used – e.g. sarin-attacks 1995 in Japan)

5 Psychological aspects of terrorism 5 ESCI-2008 Single attacks versus long lasting conflict  Single terrorist attacks (e.g. Madrid, London bombing) Shock, numbing, fear  Long lasting conflict (e.g. Northern Ireland, Palestine) No possibility to regain trust and feeling of safety, at the same time chronic conflict becomes part of everyday life → Useful adaption/coping of individuals can vary greatly between these two types of political violence

6 Psychological aspects of terrorism 6 ESCI-2008 Risk perception  If emotionality is high, probability tends to be overestimated  From the point of view of the public, probability and emotionality have to be both taken into account  Terrorist attacks are low probability/high emotionality events

7 Psychological aspects of terrorism 7 ESCI-2008 Disaster Psychology Phases of Response to Disaster Time Weeks Months Enhanced Community and Individual Adjustement Previous Level of Adjustement „Second disaster“ (Raphael [1986] “When disaster strikes”) Warning Impact „Honeymoon“ Desillusionment LevelofAdjustementLevelofAdjustement

8 Psychological aspects of terrorism 8 ESCI-2008 Individual reactions (impact phase)  Shock, numbing, altruism  Needs for rescue,information, manageable tasks →personal safety

9 Psychological aspects of terrorism 9 ESCI-2008 Individual reactions (acute phase)  First understanding of what has happened, anger, guilt feelings, fear, sadness……..  Needs for information, rituals, empowerment →personal safety

10 Psychological aspects of terrorism 10 ESCI-2008 Individual reactions (recovery phase)  Up and down  From confrontation to avoidance and denial; from honeymoon to desillusion, frustration and impatience  Trying to work through the experience, to regain understanding, control, meaningfulness, trust  Needs for information, daily routines, public recognition, financial support, empowerment →personal safety

11 Psychological aspects of terrorism 11 ESCI th July London Bombings (Dix, 2006)  Four different disasters (groups of affected people) -Who was affected? Survivors Bereaved Frontline responders Wider community  Different needs of different groups

12 Psychological aspects of terrorism 12 ESCI-2008 (Dix, 2006) What were their psychosocial needs? (Dix, 2006) Survivors Bereaved Community Information Practical assistance Emotional support Financial support Each other Public recognition To be empowered Information Practical assistance Emotional support Financial support Each other Public recognition To be empowered Information Reassurance Emotional support Ways to help Sharing experience Demonstrate solidarity To be empowered

13 Psychological aspects of terrorism 13 ESCI-2008 Try to keep the balance between Security Civil liberties PreparationPreoccupation ForewarningCreating unnecessary anxiety (Alexander, 2006)

14 Psychological aspects of terrorism 14 ESCI-2008 Risk Communication  If emotions are involved, do not focus only on giving the correct numbers or other facts  Be careful about emotional aspects (need for subjective security)  Be careful about the amount of affective information given!  Be careful which narratives are used! (black and white descriptions, chaos, revenge, panic, versus rescue, active survivors, help given, organised action)

15 Psychological aspects of terrorism 15 ESCI-2008 After terrorist attacks: Care leadership (Dyregrov, A.)  Give access to informations and facts  Be in contact and show your own reactions  Formulate and acknowledge the reactions in the community  Show care, warmth, respect  Stimulate ritual expressions  Secure further help

16 Psychological aspects of terrorism 16 ESCI-2008 Prevention has to take into account people´s need to feel safe  Prevention principle: Keep the balance between risk awareness and feelings of control and safety -Honestly inform people about risks and possible solutions (as well as their limits) -But do not use fear induction as a strategy!

17 Psychological aspects of terrorism 17 ESCI-2008  Thank you

18 Psychological aspects of terrorism 18 ESCI-2008 References  Alexander, D. (2006) Psychosocial Aspects of Terrorism, EU Workshop Citizens and Resilience, The Hague, Nov  Alexander, D.A. (2005). Early mental health intervention after disasters. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11,  Alexander, D.A. & Klein, S. (2006). The challenge of preparation for a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear terrorist attack. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 52,  Bartholomew, R. & Wessely, S. (2002). Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness. From possessed nuns to clinical and biological terrorism fears. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180,  Blythe, B.T. (2002). Blindsided. A manager´s guide to catastrophic incidents in the workplace. Penguin Books: New York.  Dix, P. (2006) Citizens and Resilience: Messages from Survivors and the Bereaved, EU Workshop Citizens and Resilience, The Hague, Nov  Gibson, M. (2006). Order from chaos. Responding traumatic events (3 th Edition). The Policy Press: University of Bristol.

19 Psychological aspects of terrorism 19 ESCI-2008 References  Raphael, B. (1986). When disaster strikes. Basic Books: New York.  Richardson, L. (2006). What terrorists want. John Murray (Publishers): London.  Rubin, G.J., Brewin, C.R., Greenberg, N., Simpson, J., Wessely, S. (2005). Psychological and behavioural reactions to the bombings in London on 7 July 2005: cross sectional survey of the representative sample of Londoners. BMJ, doi: /bmj A.  Tyhurst, J.S. (1951). Individual reactions to community disaster: the national history of psychiatric phenomenon. American Journal of Psychiatry, 107,


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