Citizens' Images of Nuclear War: Content and Consequences

Susan T. Fiske, Felicia Pratto, Mark A. Pavelchak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


An exploratory study was conducted to examine the contents of ordinary citizens' conceptions of nuclear war and the possible consequences of those mental conceptions or images for political activity. Previous data suggested the feasibility of measuring cognitive images and their emotional concomitants in surveys of the general public. Existing survey research also suggested that cognitive images of nuclear war and their affective concomitants might precipitate political action. Existing laboratory data suggested specifically that the images' concreteness and their availability to memory might precipitate action. The content of nuclear war images was mainly abstract and secondarily concrete. Both abstract and concrete content included primarily physical destruction, as well as death, disease, and injury. References in a 1954 survey to the quality of life after an attack have been replaced in the current survey with comments about sheer survival. Antinuclear activity indeed was significantly related to the concreteness of people's nuclear war images, beyond the effects of antinuclear attitudes and general levels of political activity. The emotionality and availability of images did not predict antinuclear activity. Both image contents and their behavioral consequences cut across demographic lines, such as sex, race, social class, and political ideology; only age and education bore modest relation to images and action. Images of nuclear war appear to be highly consensual. When they are especially concrete, they can motivate antinuclear activity. 1983 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-65
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1983

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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