Third-Person Effects in the Aftermath of Terrorism

Publication Title

Mass Communication and Society

Publication Date


Document Type





third-person effects, aftermath, terrorism


Communication | Sociology


We examined third-person effects in the context of television coverage of terrorist-related stories in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Whereas third-person effects research suggests the magnitude of perceptual bias is the important predictor of behavioral intention, such as restrictions on media content, uses and gratifications suggests perceptual bias is one influence amid other influential individual differences. We examined whether exposure to terrorist-related television stories, locus of control, experience with crime, viewing motivation, third-person perceptual bias, and two viewer social attitudes-fear and faith in others—work in concert to predict support for restrictions aimed at combating terrorist activity. Path analysis revealed direct and indirect links among audience predictors and third-person perceptual bias, and between perceptual bias and social attitudes. However, there was no direct link between third-person perceptual bias and support for policies aimed at combating terrorism. Because locus of control and viewer motives were important antecedents of third-person perceptual bias, and perceptual bias was linked with fear, the results suggest that third-person effects research should be expanded to examine a wider range of media effects than those to which it has been applied in the past.