Skip to main content



Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2019-07-31

This project aims to analyzes how anxiety impacts individual-level political attitudes toward international issues, and in turn how the prevalence of anxiety interacts with nativist and cosmopolitan norms in shaping international political attitudes.
This project is important because it is the first study in international relations with the explicit aim of theorizing anxiety as an emotion distinct from fear and integrating into IR theory. Theorizing and empirically analyzing how anxiety impacts international political attitudes will be important in understanding and responding to the rise of nationalism and populism in democratic societies. It offers policy prescriptions to international norm advocates about how to construct narratives that will augment the resonance of norms with audiences facing greater levels of anxiety.
The first objective of the study is to develop an original conceptual framework on how anxiety impacts international political attitudes, drawing on existentialist thought on anxiety and empirical findings in social psychology. The second objective of the study is to test the factors and processes identified in the analytical framework cross-nationally, through experiments conducted in Canada and Turkey. Thirdly, the project aims to derive and disseminate policy prescriptions about how to construct narratives that will augment the resonance of international norms with audiences facing greater levels of anxiety. Finally, the project aims to spearhead the development of a scholarly network on anxiety and norms.
In the conceptual framework developed for the study, it was hypothesized that the rising uncertainty and unpredictability of world affairs generates anxiety. Because anxiety fosters attachment to existing worldviews, the effects of anxiety are conditioned by the prevalent norms in society. If nationalist norms are prevalent, then anxiety will foster nativism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia. If on the other hand cosmopolitan norms are constituting a framework of certainty, then anxiety may foster greater commitment to international cooperation and solidarity. This framework was tested by three experiments conducted in Canada, Turkey, and on the M-Turk platform, where participants' level of anxiety was manipulated by exposing them to negative uncertainties in the future of world politics (or in case of control group, positive certainties) and the participants' exposure to norms were manipulated with nationalist and cosmopolitan priming texts.
The findings indicate a strong cross-national variation in the extent to which international uncertainty produces anxiety and the effects of anxiety on international political attitudes.
The relevant literatures on anxiety in existentialist philosophy, international relations theory, social psychology, and political science have been analyzed, and incorporated into a theoretical paper on anxiety, norms, and international political attitudes. The main arguments of this paper have been summarized in a preliminary diagram outlining pathways of interaction between anxiety, norms, and international political attitudes.

In Canada, an experiment with 431 full-time psychology (147) and political science (284) students has been conducted at University of British Columbia, Vancouver, during February-April 2018. Subsequently, in Turkey, an experiment with 453 full-time business and international relations students has been conducted at Koç University, Istanbul, during February-April 2019. The results of both experiments were comparatively analyzed and presented in a paper entitled, ‘How Do the Effects of Anxiety on International Political Attitudes Change across Cultures?’

During my stay at UBC, in addition to holding regular meetings with my supervisor Prof. Richard Price, I have developed an extensive interdisciplinary network among scholars in psychology and political science. During my re-integration phase at KU, I have held regular meetings with my supervisor, Prof. Ali Carkoglu and colleagues Dr. Selim Erdem Aytac and Dr. Zeynep Cemalcilar. I learned and implemented a new methodological approach, experimental methods, and refreshed my knowledge of statistical methods through independent study.

The project made valuable contributions to my career development. I was promoted to full professor at Koc University. I received invitations to present my work on anxiety from University of Lund, University of Gothenburg and to give the keynote address at the Annual Convention of the Central and Eastern European International Studies Association in June 2019. With these invited talks and keynote lecture, I was able to introduce my research to leading scholars of my discipline in Europe and North America. I have also led the development of a scholarly network on anxiety in international relations by organized a panel specifically on Anxiety and Identity Change at the 2019 ECPR General Conference in Wroclaw.

In terms of the dissemination of my project results to a broader audience, I have set up a web-site on the project, which includes short blogs on the theoretical framework and key findings in English and in Turkish.
My research has advanced the state of the art in international relations theory, by bringing together philosophical insights and social psychological research findings into a novel conceptualization on anxiety. As the first study to analyze the impact of anxiety as an emotion distinct from fear, it has a significant impact on IR theory, which has so far been preoccupied with fear at the expense of anxiety.
It has forged new connections between the fields of social psychology and international relations theory. My collaborators at the psychology department at UBC have indicated that this will be the first attempt to test the impact of anxiety on international political attitudes, and thus they have been very enthusiastic about contributing to the project. I have also helped faculty in political science and psychology at KU to forge new connections over my project.
In terms of its wider societal relevance, the factors driving this project, such as international uncertainty, rise of nationalism, democratic decline, and authoritarianism, maintain their significance. I will actively maintain the website to include policy proposals for international norm advocates, conversations held with scholars and activists on international environmental and migration issues.