Risk perception and support for security measures: interactive effects of media exposure to terrorism and prior life stress?

Lotte Skøt*, Jesper Bo Nielsen, Anja Leppin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The present study investigated the effects of prior levels of general life stress on young adults’ cognitive and emotional reactions to media coverage of terrorism. University students (n = 94) completed an online baseline survey, after which they were randomly assigned to a terrorism or non-terrorism media exposure condition. Approximately 1–2 weeks later, participants attended an experimental session in which they were shown a real life news clip about a recent terrorist event (terrorism media exposure) or a non-violent societal risk (non-terrorism media exposure). Participants filled out a brief online survey immediately before and after the intervention. Socio-demographic factors and perceived life stress were assessed at baseline. Perceived susceptibility to terrorism, terrorism-related worry, and support for security measures were measured at pre- and post-intervention. Data were analyzed using a series of two-way analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) controlling for pretest scores and relevant socio-demographic factors. Significant interaction effects were found between media exposure and perceived life stress on support for the following security measures: video surveillance, mandatory bag checks at universities, and security patrols at universities during the day. More specifically, participants with lower levels of stress scored similarly on these measures in the terrorism and non-terrorism media exposure groups, whereas among those with higher stress levels, scores were significantly greater in the terrorism compared to non-terrorism media exposure group. Thus, young adults with elevated levels of perceived life stress were more responsive to media coverage of terrorism compared to those with lesser life stress when it comes to a desire for regulatory action. This indicates that higher levels of general life stress may sensitize young people towards the impact of threatening information.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)228-246
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • demand for security measures
  • media
  • Perceived life stress
  • risk perception
  • terrorism


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