British Journal of Psychology

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British Journal of Psychology - Early View Articles, Pages ${blockparams.parentJournalIssue.pageRange}

Media exposure to terrorism and people's risk perception: The role of environmental sensitivity and psychophysiological response to stress

Terrorist attacks have a destabilizing impact on the general population, causing distress and fear. However, not all individuals are equally susceptible to the effects of terror threat. This study aimed to examine whether exposure to terrorism‐related pictures interacted with individual differences in environmental sensitivity and psychophysiological response to stress to explain people's risk perception, operationalized as perceived likelihood of a terrorist attack and willingness to trade off one's privacy to increase national security. Ninety‐five university students were randomly assigned to one of two conditions (terrorism‐related vs. neutral pictures). After watching the pictures, they answered questions concerning risk perception and completed questionnaires. Stress was induced by the Mannheim Multicomponent Stress Test, during which heart rate was recorded. Results showed that the perceived likelihood of future attacks was affected by the interaction between exposure to terrorism pictures and psychophysiological reactivity to stress, whereas willingness to trade off one's privacy to improve national security was influenced by the interaction between exposure to terrorism pictures and environmental sensitivity. The study suggests that individuals high in sensitivity and psychophysiological stress reactivity are particularly affected by terrorism‐related pictures. Psychologists should direct their efforts to raise general awareness of the negative effects, especially for some people, of such media coverage.

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