Motive Attribution and Counter-Terror Policy

We investigate how perceptions about terrorists’ motives for violence influence citizens’ attitudes towards counter-terrorism. Across three different studies in the US and Israel, we highlight two main findings. 1) We find that perceptions of terrorists’ motivations are strongly correlated with counter-terror attitudes. Those that believe that terrorists are motivated by hatred are more likely to support harsher counter-terror measures (e.g. targeting the family members of terrorists and torture) than those who believe terrorists are motivated by more proximate grievances. 2) Yet, when we manipulate perceptions of terrorists’ motives in an experiment, we find these changed perceptions do not influence support for different counter-terror policies. Our findings suggest that perceptions of terrorists’ motivations may be ex-post justification for policy attitudes, rather than a key determinant of them. Please email to request a copy of the paper (which is currently under review).

Project collaborators/co-authors: Daphna Canetti and Thomas Zeitzoff

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Joshua Gubler
Associate Professor of Political Science

Joshua Gubler is a comparative political psychologist studying intergroup cooperation and conflict, affect, emotion, persuasion, and motivation.