Cognitive representations of "a terrorist" and their individual foundations
Tomasz Kubik & Małgorzata Kossowska
Institute of Psychology
This work is a part of a large research program that deals with psychological
variables that underlie the fear of terrorism. It is assumed that threat perception
(i.e. how people view terrorists) influences fear levels and coping. That is why our
work was aimed at identifying different cognitive representations of terrorism.
Another goal was to study the relationships of these representations with ideological
orientations that shape social perceptions and information processing. The first
stage of the research was qualitative in nature, and produced varied characteristics
that people attribute to terrorism. This material was used to construct a scale
for the quantitative stage. A four-factor model of terrorist perception was
developed based upon exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses (terrorist as:
ideologist, soldier, psychopath, system victim). This model is consistent with
others findings from the area of terrorism research. The image of terrorist as
"ideologist" was connected with authoritarianism (RWA), and terrorist as "soldier"
- with social dominance orientation (SDO). Both orientations (RWA and SDO)
predicted the image of terrorist as "psychopath". The results are discussed
with reference to psychological theories of reactions to terrorism, as well as
RWA and SDO.
Key words: authoritarianism, cognitive representations, perception of terrorists,
threat of terrorism