Threat and decision making

Carol Gordon, Asher Arian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the relationship between threat and information processing in various conflict situations and extends the analysis to an examination of the relationship between affective and cognitive components of decision making about policy under conditions of high and low threat. Elements of threatening situations are measured using public opinion surveys done mainly in Israel regarding the Arab/Israeli conflict and the conflict between religious and secular Jews. Some data from surveys done in the Palestinian Authority regarding support for the peace process and support for armed attacks against Israeli targets, and in the United States regarding the social crises of neighborhood crime out of control and the threat of loss of Social Security and Medicare benefits are included as two other illustrations of the relationship between threat and policy. The article focuses on how feelings of threat relate to decisions about how to deal with the situation and under what conditions those decisions will either be inflammatory or conciliatory. Data are presented demonstrating that feelings of threat correlate with policy choices regarding the threatening situation or group, and often at very strong levels. Specifically, the more threatened people feel, the more their policy choice tends to maintain or intensify the conflict - that is, the more incendiary the policy choice is - and vice versa - the lower the threat the more subdued the policy choice is. Our data analysis leads us to the proposition that when people feel very threatened - the decision making process about policy is dominated by emotion - not by logic or rational considerations. On the other hand, under conditions of low threat, both emotions and logic have a role in the process of deciding policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-215
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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