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A Cross-Cultural Investigation of Emotional Responses to Architecture in the Era of Terror

Gali Zilbershtein , Andrew D. Seidel

The current knowledge, concerning the influence of architectural and social environments on people's emotional responses of personal security, addresses mainly threats of 'conventional' crimes, and relatively ignores threats associated with the recent proliferation of terrorism. This study attempts to address this gap by examining two basic questions:

(a) Do threats of terrorism as compared to threats of conventional crime lead to different perceptual and emotional responses to features of the built environment?
(b) Are these differences in perceptions of security mediated by cultural contexts?

The study introduces a new rigorous experimental methodology to test the two questions. The experiment includes manipulation of architectural and social qualities of the setting as well as the contextual threat (terror or crime). Furthermore, the experiment was administered in two cultural environments that differ in their actual exposure to terrorism (US and Israel).

The preliminary findings suggest that differences in threats (crime and terror) intervene in the way the architecture and social cues affect feeling of security. Moreover, while the Americans and Israelis responded similarly to the examined environmental features in a manipulated context of conventional crime, they reacted differently in the context of terror related threat. The findings suggest that fear of conventional crime is rooted in humans and thus may be similar in different populations. The fear of terrorism, on the other hand, is new to people and therefore relies on the level of habituation of the specific society to a terror stricken reality.


emotional responses, terror, crime, architecture, built environment, perception of security