Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The political effects of existential fear

Date:
October 20, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Why did the approval ratings of President George W. Bush -- who was perceived as indecisive before September 11, 2001 -- soar over 90 percent after the terrorist attacks? Because Americans were acutely aware of their own deaths.

Why did the approval ratings of President George W. Bush -- who was perceived as indecisive before September 11, 2001 -- soar over 90 percent after the terrorist attacks? Because Americans were acutely aware of their own deaths. That is one lesson from the psychological literature on "mortality salience" reviewed in a new article called "The Politics of Mortal Terror."

The paper, by psychologists Florette Cohen of the City University of New York's College of Staten Island and Sheldon Solomon of Skidmore College, appears in October's Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The fear people felt after 9/11 was real, but it also made them ripe for psychological manipulation, experts say. "We all know that fear tactics have been used by politicians for years to sway votes," says Cohen. Now psychological research offers insight into the chillingly named "terror management."

The authors cite studies showing that awareness of mortality tends to make people feel more positive toward heroic, charismatic figures and more punitive toward wrongdoers. In one study, Cohen and her colleagues asked participants to think of death and then gave them statements from three fictional political figures. One was charismatic: he appealed to the specialness of the person and the group to which she belonged. One was a technocrat, offering practical solutions to problems. The third stressed the value of participation in democracy. After thinking about death, support for the charismatic leader shot up eightfold.

Even subliminal suggestions of mortality have similar effects. Subjects who saw the numbers 911 or the letters WTC had higher opinions of a Bush statement about the necessity of invading Iraq. This was true of both liberals and conservatives.

Awareness of danger and death can bias even peaceful people toward war or aggression. Iranian students in a control condition preferred the statement of a person preaching understanding and the value of human life over a jihadist call to suicide bombing. But primed to think about death, they grew more positive toward the bomber. Some even said that they might consider becoming a martyr.

As time goes by and the memory of danger and death grows fainter, however, "morality salience" tends to polarize people politically, leading them to cling to their own beliefs and demonize others who hold opposing beliefs -- seeing in them the cause of their own endangerment.

The psychological research should make voters wary of emotional political appeals and even of their own emotions in response, Cohen says. "We encourage all citizens to vote with their heads rather than their hearts. Become an educated voter. Look at the candidate's positions and platforms. Look at who you are voting for and what they stand for."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. F. Cohen, S. Solomon. The Politics of Mortal Terror. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011; 20 (5): 316 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411416570

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "The political effects of existential fear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020025748.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, October 20). The political effects of existential fear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020025748.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "The political effects of existential fear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020025748.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program

NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) The New York City Police Department has ended a program that once kept tabs on the city's muslim population. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

AFP (Apr. 14, 2014) To curb the growing numbers of feral cats in the US capital, the Washington Humane Society is encouraging residents to set traps and bring the animals to a sterilization clinic, after which they are released.. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins