Female and Male Terrorists Evoke Same Emotions in Readers of News Stories

Feb 9, 2016

A researcher at Northern Arizona University hypothesized Americans respond with more anger and sadness when they read about women terrorists compared to men. The ongoing study suggests that isn’t true.

Credit ABC News


Lori Poloni-Staudinger, NAU political scientist, asked nearly 600 Americans to read news articles about a thwarted terrorist attack. The articles, which were later revealed to be fake, identified the attacker as male, female, a father or a mother.

The readers then reported how much fear, anger or sadness they felt. “What we expected to find is that people should be reacting emotionally differently to women as opposed to men terrorists,” Poloni-Staudinger says. “And we actually did not find that. We found that people were reacting pretty much the same to women and male terrorists no matter how they were portrayed.”  

The study did discover women who read the articles were more likely to report feeling fear than men. That’s significant, Poloni-Staudinger says, because emotions are linked to policy choices.

“The more afraid you are, the more willing you are to support military intervention and to support restrictions on your civil liberties,” she says.  

Poloni-Staudinger expects different results with other types of media, such as Internet blogs or television. She plans to test that hypothesis next, and expand the study beyond the U.S. to include Sweden, Turkey and Spain.