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The University of Sussex

 4 Oct 2001 

Psychologist warns of risk of copycat terrorist attacks

The increased risk of copycat terrorist attacks in the wake of those in America has been highlighted by a psychologist at the University of Sussex.

"The political and media reaction to the terrorist attacks in America has massively exacerbated the risk of copycat terrorism," says Dr Paul Marsden, Contagion Psychologist and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, who studies copycat phenomena ranging from infectious yawning to suicide and even murder.

Extensive data from America show that plane crashes thought to be suicides involving the deliberate killing of others rise unexpectedly following media coverage of other so-called 'murder-suicide' cases.

"More worryingly, the rise in subsequent copycat events corresponds closely to the amount of media coverage devoted to these events," says Dr Marsden. He suggests that such media coverage could follow certain guidelines - such as avoiding repetitious or excessive reporting of an event - which might decrease the chances of copycat attacks occurring. So far the media coverage of the attacks in America have not followed such guidelines.

"Our voyeuristic and morbid fascination for disaster may have increased the likelihood of copycat terrorism," says Dr Marsden. "Only by understanding the situation that led to the attacks can we hope to move towards an informed solution that may help prevent such attacks from occurring again," he adds.

 Notes for editors 

Dr Paul Marsden can be contacted on 0777 95 77 248.

The article 'Copycat Terrorism: Fanning the fire' by Dr Paul Marsden is published in the Journal of Memetics, Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University, Issue 2, September 2001.

For further information, please contact Peter Simmons, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678209, Fax 01273 877456, email or Alison Field, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678609, email

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