Psychological Effect of the Threat of Nuclear Warfare

Diego Valiente
March 14, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015


Fig. 1: 1945 Nagasaki, Japan Atomic Bomb Mushroom Cloud (Courtesy of the National Archives. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Fig. 1 is a picture of the Nagasaki, Japan nuclear bomb mushroom and it clearly shows the power of nuclear warfare. It should be of no surprise that after the first military use of nuclear weapons, the world was astounded by the power and threat that nuclear warfare presents. Even though it is true that there have not been any other major nuclear warfare on people since Japan, it should be emphasized that the first attack had a lasting impact on people worldwide. On a certain level, this has started the investigation and scrutiny of the psychological affects that nuclear threat has had on individuals. The impact that these psychological effects have had on individuals has been substantial and is therefore worth exploring.

Psychological Effect

The threat of nuclear warfare has in fact caused some negative effects toward individuals. Many exhibit anxiety on the consequences that nuclear radiation may present to their health if nuclear warfare were to happen.[2] Individuals whom demonstrated anxiety also feared the destructive power of war, dreaded losing control of their life, and showed vulnerability. Some studies have demonstrated that the groups of people that are more psychologically affected by the threat of nuclear war are younger citizens and individuals that are responsible for others such as parents of large families.[2] According to a study, a child's psychology is much more vulnerable to exhibit high emotion; and therefore, more exposed to negative psychological effects. [2]

The threat of war has produced negative psychological effects; however, some claim that these negative effects have reduced the risk of nuclear warfare. [1] A study showed that the anxiety and fear of nuclear war has caused individuals to constrain the use of nuclear arms. [3] Many are aware of the destructive potential that nuclear warfare could bring and so have taken certain precautions to prevent their use.


Ever since nuclear weapons were used in Japan, people across the globe have not disregarded the destructive potential of nuclear warfare. In fact, many studies have revealed that nuclear threat can have negative psychological effects on individuals. The youth have been shown to be particularly susceptible to these negative psychological effects. Even though the threat of nuclear warfare could increase anxiety and give people a sense of powerlessness, it is exactly these effects that have motivated people to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. [1]

© Diego Valiente. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] X. Xie, "Fear of Nuclear Threat," PH241 Stanford University, Winter 2013.

[2] S. J. Kiraly,"Psychological Effects of the Threat of Nuclear War," Can. Fam. Physician 32, 170 (1986).

[3] J. G. Blight, "How Might Psychology Contribute to Reducing the Risk of Nuclear War?" Polit. Psychol. 7, 617 (1986).