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Impact of 9/11 Expands Clinical Knowledge of Stress

Emotional Impact of 9/11 Expands Clinical Knowledge As we remember the tragedy of 9/11, a new research study suggests the severity of a traumatic event can influence the mental health of individuals not directly exposed to the incident.

Experts evaluated how the attacks impacted the psychological processes of those not directly exposed to the event.

Researchers studied college students in Massachusetts and found that even those who were not directly connected to New York or Washington showed increased stress responses to run-of-the-mill visual images.

“Other studies have shown that the 9/11 attacks resulted in a wave of stress and anxiety across the United States,” said researcher Ivy Tso, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Michigan.

“Eight to 10 percent of the residents of New York City reported symptoms consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression while 40 percent of Americans across the country experienced significant symptoms of stress related to the attacks.”

Study findings are published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Tso and her colleagues’ study, which took place within one week of the attacks, assessed a sample of 31 university students in Boston who were not directly connected to the attacks in New York and therefore represented the wider American public.

Researchers evaluated the brain activity of the participants to detect signs of anxiety and stress as they were shown a series of 90 pictures.

Thirty of the pictures contained images of the attacks while the others were defined as either “negative” but not related to the attacks, or “neutral.”

“The results of our study indicate that participants’ brain wave responses during processing of the images deviated from normal in proportion to their self-report distress level directly related to the 9/11 attacks,” said Tso.

The abnormal brain activity is similar to what is observed in individuals with PTSD (e.g., diminished attention, hypervigilance, suppression of unwanted thoughts).

“This finding is significant as our participants were young, unmedicated, highly functional individuals and while their distress was clearly below clinical threshold, their brain responses to emotional information were affected the same way, though not to the same degree, as in PTSD,” concluded Tso.

“This makes us rethink whether distress reactions should be considered a spectrum of severity, rather than simply divided into normal vs. clinical categories.”

Source: University of Michigan Health System

Impact of 9/11 Expands Clinical Knowledge of Stress

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Impact of 9/11 Expands Clinical Knowledge of Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Sep 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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