Wednesday 23 August 2017

'We're very efficient at distancing ourselves in Ireland' - Are we losing interest in terrorist attacks?

Are Irish people becoming tired of hearing about terrorist attacks across Europe?

Counter-terrorism officers march near London Bridge a day after the terrorist attack earlier
this month. Photo: Getty
Counter-terrorism officers march near London Bridge a day after the terrorist attack earlier this month. Photo: Getty
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Terrorist attacks across Europe will continue to "shock" Irish people, despite feelings of empathy fatigue at the ongoing news coverage, a leading psychologist has said.

Orla Muldoon, Professor of Psychology at the University of Limerick, said that terrorists are out "to make headlines" and Irish people will be affected because they can relate to these heinous attacks.

Orla Muldoon, Professor of Psychology at the University of Limerick
Orla Muldoon, Professor of Psychology at the University of Limerick

"Irish people are very efficient at distancing themselves from traumatic events. They're good at saying 'it's not happening here in Ireland so I don't have to concern myself with it'.

"It's a mechanism that we use to feel less vulnerable."

Prof Muldoon said that while Irish people may distance themselves from the terrorist attack, it may still deeply upset them.

"With the attack in Manchester, Irish people could identify closely with the community and it was very distressing. People saw some similarity with the victims whether it be they were parents too or fans of Ariana Grande.

Scenes at the vigil in Albert Square in Manchester for the bombing victims Credit: Kyran O'Brien
Scenes at the vigil in Albert Square in Manchester for the bombing victims Credit: Kyran O'Brien
A Belgian Army soldier stands outside Central Station after a reported explosion in Brussels on Tuesday

"With the London attacks, people might relate because they were on the bridge the previous week. If people see a similarity to their own lives, it can be very distressing."

She added that similar terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Syria aren't generating news coverage here in Ireland because the victims aren't humanised or relatable.

19 of the 22 victims of the Manchester terror attack
19 of the 22 victims of the Manchester terror attack

"Around the same time as the Manchester attack there was a bomb on a school bus in Syria. We didn't hear about it because we didn't know anything about the victims and we couldn't relate. With Manchester, we felt as though we knew every victim personally and had photos of all of the victims. People do care about the attacks but they have to be able to relate to the victims to empathise."

Read More: Young Irish woman feels 'incredibly lucky' after surviving London terror attack and Nepal earthquake

Prof Muldoon said that people react differently towards the terrorist attacks.

"Some start to have a negative impact towards the group they perceive as being responsible. Others avoid going to the areas where attacks are happening such as London or Paris."

She said that while the news is distressing, it's unlikely to have a huge impact on people's mental health.

"After the 9/11 attacks, studies showed that people who were exposed to the horrendous attack were unlikely to have post-traumatic-stress. Studies showed that you needed to be in the area to be deeply effected.

"However, people who have experienced similar trauma before can see new attacks as a trigger and it can be very difficult for them to watch."

The psychology professor said that the media have a huge responsibility in the way they cover these terrorist attacks.

People lay tributes to the victims of the attack on the Manchester Arena in central Manchester. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
People lay tributes to the victims of the attack on the Manchester Arena in central Manchester. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

"Some outlets are starting to have a warning before their coverage that tells viewers that the content is distressing. Parents could be watching the news with their kids and all of a sudden these horrible terrorist attacks come on and they have to explain to their kids what is happening."

She said that smartphones are also adding to the chaos as eye-witnesses are sharing very graphic images of bodies and carnage online, where everyone cane see it.

"The media are more responsible with what they publish. They rarely use graphic images, but online anyone can post these horrible images of the aftermath."

However, she added that these graphic images mean that people can't deny what is really happening in the world.

"Once you see the graphic images, you get a true picture of the extent of the brutality. With the fire in the Grenfell tower you couldn't ignore the tragedy. Videos of the burning building were everywhere on social media."

She said that while people may become detached to stories constantly in the news, there will be interest if the victims are humanised and relatable.

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower are seen in North Kensington, London. Photo: REUTERS/Neil Hall
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower are seen in North Kensington, London. Photo: REUTERS/Neil Hall

"During the Northern Ireland attacks, people particularly related to the Omagh bombings because many people in the south went there to their shopping on Saturdays.

"It's the same with attacks in France and England. We can relate to these attacks."

She dismissed suggestions that after a while, terrorist attacks will no longer make the front pages of newspapers because they will be so common.

"Bombers want to shock people and keep their attacks in the news. We saw that in Manchester where they attacked children. They got their headline there.

"The whole point of terrorism is to make people afraid so it will be covered.

"As long as it's relevant to the readership, it will continue to make the front pages of newspapers. The readership is the people that the terrorists are attacking. It's a propaganda war."

The psychology professor said that anyone who is affected by the negative news coverage should talk about it and engage in conversation with others.

"We can't ignore it but we should try and engage with others about it."

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News