Newswise — LISBON, Portugal (June 2017) - It is a rare opportunity when public policy professionals have information at their fingertips for comparing public views around a traumatic event before implementing new policies. A new study, which analyzed the public’s risk perception regarding terrorist attacks, will be presented at the June 19-21 conference of the Society for Risk Analysis in Lisbon, Portugal, at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. 

In the study, “Changes in terror related risk perceptions in Germany after the Berlin Christmas market attack,” authors Kristina Stumpf, Daniela Knuth, and Silke Schmidt, from the Department of Health and Prevention at University of Greifswald, Germany, examine how those exposed to local terrorist acts through media sources perceive the risk of terrorism before and immediately after an event—and discuss how that difference in perception may shape measures that are proposed in response.

The event at the center of their study is from December 19, 2016, when a tractor-trailer plowed into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market, leaving 12 dead and injuring another 48 people. With responsibility claimed by ISIS, the death toll from the attack shocked Germany, in the wake of a string of smaller terrorist incidents earlier that year. 

In this analysis, participants were the same from a 2012-2013 study on the perception of risks from terrorism during a much quieter period in Germany.  The authors surveyed participants four days after the attack on the Berlin Christmas market, allowing them to gauge reactions still fresh from the devastating news and subsequent media coverage. In both surveys, participants answered such questions as how likely they would be to experience a terror event and how severe they anticipated the consequences to be for themselves and their society.

Perceived likelihood of an attack and concern of being affected by a terrorist attack were elevated compared to participants’ reports in the first survey, prior to the attack. However, the seriousness of the consequences of such an attack were rated lower in comparison to the first survey with regard to both general and personal consequences. Risk perception also varied between men and women, with women’s ratings being higher on all aspects of risk perception.

As the authors state, this kind of research study is critical to policy makers trying to “deal responsibly with demands of the public” for “mitigating measures” by their government immediately after such attacks.   


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