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Public Reactions to Male Versus Female Terrorism: Experimental Evidence for the Male Warrior Hypothesis

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  • Miriam Lindner

One of the most consistent findings in the domain of criminal justice is that female and male offenders are perceived differently, often resulting in milder sentencing of women compared to men. Although previous studies have sought to identify factors that shape public reactions to terrorism and support for harsh interrogation techniques in its aftermath, empirical studies on differential reactions to female (vs. male) terrorist violence remain scarce. Here, it is argued that the often-violent evolutionary history of our species has shaped the way in which we perceive and react to female (vs. male) terrorist violence. Based on the framework of coalitional psychology—and specifically, the male warrior hypothesis—the assumption is tested that terror-suspect sex, in interaction with other threat cues such as in- or out-group membership and size of coalition, affects support for interrogational torture. This prediction was tested by conducting a survey experiment on a nationally representative sample of 2,126 U.S. adults. Results demonstrated that terror-suspect sex significantly shapes reactions to and perceptions of terrorist violence. Further, nuanced responses based on respondent sex revealed that these associations were exclusively driven by male participants. Gender attitudes and mere punitiveness did not account for the findings, suggesting that male coalitional psychology is deeply ingrained and readily activated by cues implying intergroup conflict.

TidsskriftEvolutionary Psychology
StatusUdgivet - 2018

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