Trying to understand behavioral responses to terrorism: Personal civil liberties, environmental hazards, and U.S. resident reactions to the September 11, 2001 attacks

Michael Greenberg, Peyton Craighill, Alexandra Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Terrorism is a dreaded environmental hazard. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, a nationwide random sample of 1,200 adults 18 years or older was gathered by the Pew Research Center regarding public perceptions about the attacks and their aftermath. A year later, they repeated the national sample and added special samples of New York City and Washington, D.C. Using these data and theories developed to understand public reactions to environmental hazards, we examined the extent to which U.S. residents were willing to allow government to monitor credit card purchases, telephone calls, and e-mails, and were willing to carry a national identification card, which would be produced upon request by police. In 2001, 36% of respondents supported two or three of these actions, and in 2002, the proportion was 31%. But in New York City, 49% favored two or three. The most interesting findings were the change in the correlates of public support. In 2001, a combination of demographic (education, age), residence of respondent, and feelings (praying more, depressed) were the strongest correlates of the willingness to sacrifice personal civil liberties. A year later, the strongest correlates, especially in New York City, were behaviors and feelings (suspicious, angry, scared, avoided certain cities and events). In other words, as expected from theory, some members of the public have begun to focus on what they can do to reduce their risk, and that behavioral pattern includes a willingness to surrender some civil liberties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-176
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Ecology Review
Volume11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

Keywords

  • Civil liberties
  • Environmental hazards
  • Heuristics
  • Mental models
  • Terrorism

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