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Abstract

We investigated the idea that a charismatic leader with a controversial message is most likely to persuade people in times of terror, because in those times people have a high need for vision, and vision is what a charismatic leader provides. In addition, we argued that the leader's message should contain a pro-attitudinal position as well, as this makes the counter-attitudinal message more palatable. In line with our hypotheses, we found in Experiment 1 that thinking about terrorism increases people's need for vision. Experiment 2 revealed that only when people have a high need for vision they will be influenced by a controversial charismatic leader. Experiment 3 showed that existential threats also directly increase the influence of a controversial charismatic leader. Further, this was especially so when the charismatic leader was both attractive and communicated his message in a charismatic way. Finally, Experiment 4 revealed that after thinking about their own death or about terrorist attacks, people were most likely to be persuaded by a controversial charismatic leader whose counter-attitudinal message also contained pro-attitudinal statements. Together, this research suggests that in times of terror people's need for vision increases, which opens them up to a counter-attitudinal message of a charismatic leader as long as this message also includes some pro-attitudinal statements. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.