Terrorism Salience Increases Authoritarian Parenting

Fischer, P., Fischer, J., Frey, D., such, M., Smyth, M., Tester, M., & Kastenmüller, A. (2010). Social Psychology, 41(4), 246-254.

The threat of terrorism has become increasingly salient in Western societies following the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, and the 2005 London bombings. Previous research has indicated that perceived threat increases authoritarian attitudes, such as intolerance, conforming to authority, and aggression toward violators of social norms. Fischer and colleagues investigated whether terrorism also leads to greater endorsement of authoritarian parenting styles. In three separate studies, participants assigned to the high terror salience condition either viewed photos of terrorist acts or wrote a statement describing how they felt after hearing about the London bombings. Those in the low terror salience condition either saw neutral photos (of flowers and trees) or wrote a statement describing how they felt the last time they went to the supermarket. In the first study, students from the University of Munich answered questions about parenting after experiencing the high or low terrorism salience condition. Those in the high salience condition were significantly more likely to endorse authoritarian parenting practices than those in the low salience condition. A second study with adult participants from Exeter, UK found similar results. In a third study, 23 parents, also from Exeter, experienced the high or low salience condition and were then asked to play a game with their child (ages 5 to 12). The parent-child pairs were videotaped and the parents’ behavior was coded for authoritarian behaviors. Results showed that parents in the high terrorism salience condition were more impatient and showed more negative facial expressions with their children than those in the low salience condition. The authors suggested that future research focus on strategies to counteract the effect of threat on parenting and strive to identify the mechanism that underlies this relationship.

Making Connections

Authoritarian parents
Child rearing

Media Supplement

See this PBS film for a portrait of children and families caught in the immediate cross-fire of terrorism in Peshawar, Pakistan. [36 min 30 sec]