BUFFALO, N.Y. – Recent terror alerts, including U.S.
embassy closings and travel restrictions, can trigger a
surprisingly broad range of responses in individuals, says a
University at Buffalo psychologist who studies the impact of
Daniel Antonius, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UB
and a forensic psychologist who studies terrorism, violence and
aggression, says that individuals and societies respond to terror
alerts and news foretelling terror events in different ways.
Antonius is co-editor with Samuel J. Sinclair of a book,
forthcoming later this month, called “The Political
Psychology of Terrorism Fears” (Oxford University Press) that
examines how emotional responses to terrorism, especially fear, can
influence the political process.
He explains that firsthand experience with a terror event, such
as the Boston Marathon bombings, can lead to increased
susceptibility to future terror threats and heightened levels of
anxiety and depression in a given community.
“One might expect people in Boston, or at least the
city’s more vulnerable populations, to experience heightened
levels of worry, fear, avoidance and possibly anger,” he
“People already prone to mental health problems, people
with disabilities and immigrants have been found to be more
susceptible to terror threats,” says Antonius.
“While such symptoms likely won’t reach the
level of a psychiatric disorder, they may influence how people
carry out their daily activities, such as avoiding public
transportation or air travel, being in public or in large
crowds,” he adds.
Still, even in Boston, he says, the likelihood that large
segments of the population would experience such fears in light of
elevated threat levels is low.
“Due to our biologically built-in resilience to trauma,
most people are not likely to experience these symptoms, or at
least not consciously,” he says. “In my previous book,
co-authored with Justin Sinclair, The Psychology of Terrorism
Fears, we discussed the paradox of how fear can negatively affect
people and societies, but it can also be a central force underlying
resilience and post-traumatic growth in the context of
Antonius’ new book describes how, in some societies, a
terror event can lead to these kinds of responses. An example is
Norway and the aftermath of the terror event of July 22, 2011 in
which Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a premeditated
“Researchers from Norway present compelling research
showing that a high level of institutional trust in a society may
serve as a protective factor,” he says. “This trust,
instead of fear, may lead to a ‘rallying without fear’
after a terror event, in which there is a remobilization of
existing trust relationships, resulting in an increased sense of
“The take-home message from this study is that societies
in which there is a great deal of trust in the government, may
respond differently to terror events than societies in which there
is a lower level of trust,” he says.