Feature

More than six months after the nation's worst terrorist attacks, many people are still feeling the effects psychologically, says Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine, who began monitoring the public's reaction nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Silver presented an overview of her latest study, "Coping with stressful life events: navigating in the wake of 9/11," on behalf of APA at the Capitol Hill Exhibit and Recep-tion sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding on May 15.

"The effects of 9/11 have rippled through the country way beyond New York City," Silver says. Many people reported suffering from high levels of distress around Thanksgiving that continued six months following Sept. 11.

Silver's study, based on a national random sample of 1,400 adults, evaluated emotional, cognitive and social responses to the attacks nine to 14 days, two months and six months post-Sept. 11. She plans to survey the same sample every six months for the next several years, and sooner if there is a subsequent attack.

In November, Silver found a "substantial" percentage of people outside New York City reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. (More on her research will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.)

In her presentation in Washington, Silver described general results from the study, including:

  • The degree of exposure to the attacks, rather than the degree of loss experienced, was a significant predictor of the amount of emotional distress a person reported in November.

  • Early use of coping strategies, such as behavioral disengagement or "giving up," tended to predict continued distress over time. On the other hand, individuals who used religion to cope with the attacks experienced higher levels of positive affect over time.

  • Many people reported experiencing unexpected positive consequences in the wake of the attacks, such as closer relationships with family members and greater appreciation for the country's freedoms.

Silver has studied the similarities and differences in the ways people respond to traumatic events for the past 20 years, including research on the reactions to the Columbine High School shootings and victims from the Southern California firestorms.

She received a Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) from NSF to study reactions to the Sept. 11 tragedy. SGER grants provide expedited funding for research.

--M. DITTMANN