A cyberterrorism effect? Emotional reactions to lethal attacks on critical infrastructure

Sophia Backhaus, Michael L. Gross, Israel Waismel-Manor, Hagit Cohen, Daphna Canetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To what extent does exposure to cyberterrorism arouse negative emotions? Cyberterrorism has developed the potential to cause similarly lethal consequences to conventional terrorism, especially when targeted at critical infrastructures. But like conventional terrorism, cyberterrorism aims to terrorize, and exposure to cyberterror attacks can affect emotional responses. This article is based on an experiment that explores emotional responses to cyberterrorism using specially designed news reports showing major cyber attacks against critical water infrastructure. Our findings indicate that cyberterrorism arouses heightened reactions of anger and stress (measured physiologically through cortisol levels, and through self-report measures). Our findings also reveal that (a) exposure to cyberterror attacks is associated with higher levels of stress than of anger; (b) that these emotional responses do not differ from the emotions triggered by conventional terrorism; and (c) these responses are not dependent on the lethality of the attack. Finally, cortisol levels remained constant across conditions. This study covers new ground as it explores the distinctive role of anger after cyberterrorism, while affirming studies that describe the presence of stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-603
Number of pages9
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2020, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers 2020.


  • cortisol
  • critical infrastructures
  • cyberterrorism
  • experiment
  • exposure
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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