Preventing Nuclear War: Beliefs and Attitudes as Predictors of Disarmist and Deterrentist Behavior1


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    This article is based on a thesis submitted by the first author in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in Social Psychology at San Francisco State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Lawrence Axelrod, Department of Psychology, 2136 West Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6T 1Y7.


A survey of peace activists, defense industry workers and psychology students (n= 283) was conducted to evaluate the usefulness of Protection Motivation Theory (Maddux & Rogers, 1983; Rogers, 1975) for predicting the extent and direction (Disarmist vs. Deterrentist) of respondents' efforts to prevent nuclear war. Regression analyses showed that the Protection Motivation model did account for a significant proportion of the variance in disarmist behavior, and that extending the model to include a measure of belief in the inevitability of war improved the model's predictive power. The model did not predict deterrentist advocacy, an outcome that suggests that activism in support of nuclear deterrence may be a response to a perceived threat from an “enemy” rather than a response to the threats represented by nuclear weapons and preparations for war.