Emotional Impact of 9/11 Attacks Seen in Brain's Response

U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres

The study, which focused on college students in Massachusetts, 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 Ivy Tso from the University of Michigan. “8-10 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.”

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

The participants were shown a series of 90 pictures, 30 of which contained images of the attacks while the others were defined as either ‘negative’ but not related to the attacks, or ‘neutral’. The team then measured the brain activity of the participants to detect signs of anxiety and stress.

“The results of our study indicate that participants’ brainwave 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.

These stress-related neural deviations are analogous to the clinical phenomena and abnormal cognition observed in individuals with PTSD (e.g., diminished attention, hypervigilance, suppression of unwanted thoughts).

“This finding is significant as our participants were young, unmediated, 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.”

This study is published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact [email protected]

Full citation: Tso. I, Chiu. P, King-Casas. B, Deldin. P, “Alterations in Affective Processing of Attack Images Following September 11, 2001”, Journal of Traumatic Stress, Wiley-Blackwell, September 2011, DOI: 10.1002/jts.20678

URL Upon publication: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/jts.20678

Events that changed the world: Scholarly content on the impact of 9/11:
Further Scholarly Content on the Impact of 9/11 In the 10 years since the events of September 2001 a vast amount of scholarly research has been written on the impact of 9/11. Wiley-Blackwell is pleased to share with you this collection of free book and journal content, featuring over 20 book chapters and 185 journal articles from over 200 publications, spanning subjects across the social sciences and humanities. http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-611707.html

About the Journal:
Journal of Traumatic Stress, the official publication for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, is an interdisciplinary forum for the publication of peer-reviewed original papers on biopsychosocial aspects of trauma. Papers focus on theoretical formulations, research, treatment, prevention education/training, and legal and policy concerns. Journal of Traumatic Stress serves as a primary reference for professionals who study and treat people exposed to highly stressful and traumatic events (directly or through their occupational roles), such as war, disaster, accident, violence or abuse (criminal or familial), hostage-taking, or life-threatening illness. The journal publishes original articles, brief reports, review papers, commentaries, and, from time to time, special issues devoted to a single topic.

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