BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A study by psychologists at the University at
Buffalo and the University of California, Irvine, has found that
people's gender and ethnicity predicted their immediate response to
the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their general state of health over
the next two years.
The longitudinal study, "Ethnicity and Gender in the Face of a
Terrorist Attack," is one of the first to utilize immediate and
long-term post-trauma assessments from a large and diverse national
sample to explore gender and ethnic differences in response to a
It is published in the December issue of the journal Basic and
Applied Social Psychology.
This research may prevent researchers and policy makers from
mistakenly assuming that everyone responds the same way to these
disasters, say the study's authors. It can justify the design of
intervention efforts that target those most vulnerable to terrorist
actions over time.
The study was conducted by Thai Q. Chu, a student at UC Irvine;
Mark D. Seery, Ph.D., assistant professor, UB Department of
Psychology; Whitney A. Ence, a psychology student at University of
California, Irvine; E. Alison Holman, FNP, Ph.D., senior research
scientist, and Roxane Cohen Silver, Ph.D., professor, both in the
Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at UC Irvine.
It was funded by three grants awarded to Silver by the National
Science Foundation and an award to Seery from the National
Institute of Mental Health.
The study of 1,559 subjects found that during the two years
following the attacks, some subjects experienced poorer mental
and/or physical health. The affected subjects included:
* Those whose initial reaction to the attacks was sympathy for
the victims or sadness
* Those who initially endorsed violent retribution (versus
non-violent reprisal or action directed elsewhere)
* Those who endorsed no action at all
The subjects' sex and gender were associated with their initial
emotional response, initial endorsement of specific actions and
long-term health outcomes.
"We used a panel of study subjects that was in place before
9/11/2001, which made it possible for us to assess and account for
pre-trauma mental and physical health, a rarity in trauma
research," explained Seery.
"Taken as a whole," he said, "our findings demonstrate that men
and whites were more likely to adopt a problem-focused approach to
coping with the trauma, while women and those of non-white
ethnicity were more likely to adopt an emotion-based approach.
Both approaches, in terms of long-term health, he added,
contained "positive and negative aspects."
"Whites and men in this study expressed fewer sad and
sympathetic responses to 9/11 than did women and other ethnicities
(African American, Hispanic and a third category made up largely of
"This would predict better long-term health for them," said
Seery, "except for the propensity of whites and men to advocate
violent retaliation, which was associated with poorer health
outcomes over time."
The study employed subjects of various ethnicities and both
genders who were presented with open-ended questions about their
response to the attacks immediately after 9/11, and self-reported
their states of health at two- and six-month intervals over the
next two years.
Knowledge Networks Incorporated maintained the Web-enabled
survey panel, which was selected through stratified random-digit
telephone dialing so that its demographics reflected those of the
U.S. Census population. Panel members completed online surveys on a
regular basis in exchange for free Internet access.
With regard to ethnicity, the study found that African Americans
were twice as likely to respond emotionally after the attacks as
were non-Hispanic whites.
"Other ethnicities," a group consisting primarily of Asian
Americans, were marginally more likely than were whites to respond
emotionally. African Americans were marginally more likely than
whites to express sympathy for the victims and significantly more
likely to express sadness.
When asked what future action they endorsed, "other ethnicities"
were less likely than were whites to endorse taking any action at
all, including non-violent reprisal. African Americans were less
likely than whites to endorse explicitly violent retaliation and no
African-American women endorsed violent retaliation.
In terms of ethnicity and health outcomes, over the period
following the attacks, Hispanics reported higher levels of
generalized distress than did whites and higher levels of
post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms from 12 to 14 months post-9/11
than did whites.
Women were more than twice as likely as men to respond with
emotion to the attacks. They were marginally less likely than men
to respond with anger, more likely than men to respond with
sympathy toward the victims and more likely to express sadness due
to the events.
Women were less likely than were men to endorse any action,
including non-violent reprisal, and much less likely than were men
to endorse explicitly violent retaliation. Women more frequently
reported generalized distress in the two years after the attacks,
higher levels of PTS symptoms from two to 24 months post 9/11 and
more health ailments, than did men.
The only significant interaction between gender and ethnicity
was for the number of physician-diagnosed ailments. Hispanic men
had marginally fewer than did white men and Hispanic women had
significantly more than did white women.
Specific early emotional reactions to the events of 9/11 were
associated with more negative health effects over time. Those who
expressed sadness reported higher levels of PTS symptoms from two
to six months after 9/11. Those who expressed sympathy suffered
marginally higher PTS symptoms from 12 to 24 months post 9/11.
There were no significant effects for expressing anger.
Subjects who endorsed explicitly violent retaliation after the
attacks suffered relatively poorer health outcomes than those who
endorsed non-violent reprisal, action directed elsewhere or no
action. They also experienced more PTS symptoms from two to six
months later than did those who endorsed action directed
Respondents who did not endorse any action at all also suffered
relatively poorer outcomes: more PTS symptoms from two to 24 months
after the attacks than those who endorsed action directed
elsewhere, and more PTS symptoms from 12-24 months post attack than
those who endorsed non-violent reprisal.
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