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APA Psychologist Roxane Silver Testifies on the Role of Social Science Research in Disaster Preparedness and Response

Silver stressed the critical need for methodologically sophisticated, externally valid research on coping as we reevaluate what it means to psychologically adjust to trauma.

By Sara Robinson

Roxane Cohen Silver presents testimony before the House Science Committee, Subcommittee on Research at a November 10, 2005 hearing.


On November 10, Roxane Cohen Silver joined a distinguished panel of social and behavioral scientists to present her testimony as an expert witness at a congressional hearing of the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Research. Specifically focused on "The Role of Social Science Research in Disaster Preparedness and Response," Chairman Inglis (R-South Carolina) convened the hearing to address such questions as: "How do individuals respond to traumatic experiences, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters? How can insights into fundamental questions of cooperation, social order and resilience improve preparation for and response to new threats and disasters?"

Silver, a Professor in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, presented testimony about her research on how individuals adjust to stressful life experiences. Highlighting findings from her NSF-funded longitudinal study of emotional, cognitive, and social responses to the September 11 terrorist attacks, Silver explained that our assumptions and expectations about the coping process stand in sharp contrast to the research data. As one example of what she calls the "myths" of coping with trauma, Silver explained that "psychological responses are mistakenly assumed to be limited to those directly exposed to the trauma, and the degree of emotional response is mistakenly assumed to be proportional to the degree of exposure, amount of loss, or proximity to the trauma." Furthermore, individuals are often expected to adjust within a prescribed timetable, yet few individuals experience an orderly sequence of "stages" of emotional response, and this narrow notion of recovery fails to account for the lifelong nature of the effects of such events. In closing, Silver stressed the critical need for methodologically sophisticated, externally valid research on coping as we reevaluate what it means to psychologically adjust to trauma.

See the hearing charter, witness list, testimony, and webcast.