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Can Recurring Images of Trauma Harm Your Health?

Can Recurring Images of Trauma Harm Your Health?hNew research suggests recurring exposure to violent images from the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the Iraq War has spawned an increase in physical and mental maladies.

The new UC Irvine study explores the lingering effects of “collective traumas” such as natural disasters, mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

The ubiquity of modern media appears to have a downside as a steady diet of graphic media images may have long-lasting mental and physical health consequences, said study author Roxane Cohen Silver, Ph.D.

Experts say problems arise because individuals may be exposed to trauma for hours on end.

People who watched more than four hours a day of 9/11- and Iraq War-related television coverage (in the weeks after the attacks and at the start of the war) reported both acute and post-traumatic stress symptoms over time.

Those who watched more than four hours a day of 9/11-related coverage in the weeks after the attacks reported physician-diagnosed physical health ailments two to three years later.

Researchers determined viewing two particular kinds of images in the early days of the Iraq War was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms over time: soldiers engaged in battle and dead U.S. and Allied soldiers.

The study included assessments of participants’ mental and physical health before the 9/11 attacks and information about their media exposure and acute stress responses immediately after the attacks and after the initiation of the Iraq War.

Researchers also conducted follow up assessments in the three years after 9/11.

Experts say the acute stress period refers to the first few weeks after the event; post-traumatic stress is any time after one month.

In the current study, researchers measured stress nine to 14 days after 9/11 and within a few days after the start of the Iraq War. Almost 12 percent of the 1,322 participants reported high levels of acute stress related to 9/11 and about 7 percent reported high levels of acute stress related to the Iraq War.

Upon consideration of pre-9/11 mental health, demographic characteristics, and lifetime trauma exposure into account, researchers determined people who watched four or more hours of 9/11- or Iraq War-related television were more likely to experience symptoms of acute stress.

“The results suggest that exposure to graphic media images may be an important mechanism through which the impact of collective trauma is dispersed widely,” Silver says.

“Our findings are both relevant and timely as vivid images reach larger audiences than ever before through YouTube, social media and smartphones.”

“I would not advocate restricting nor censoring war images for the psychological well-being of the public,” Silver said.

“Instead, I think it’s important for people to be aware that there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic images of horror.”

Source: UC Irvine

Can Recurring Images of Trauma Harm Your Health?

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). Can Recurring Images of Trauma Harm Your Health?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Sep 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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