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The American Psyche, Post-9/11

How 9/11 Changed Us
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Anger and Optimism continued...

Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, cognitive psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, says, "Anger in some complicated way makes people more optimistic." These angry reactions to 9/11 -- and the optimism that can accompany it -- are seen more in men than in women, while women are more likely to feel fearful, says Fischhoff.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers have also concluded that a substantial minority of Americans see themselves as vulnerable to future terrorism. The surveyed adults said they had a 21% chance of being injured in a terrorist attack within the next year, which the researchers describe as "a very gloomy view." But according to Fischhoff, people tend to see themselves as less vulnerable than the "average American," who they believe has a 48% chance of terrorism-related injuries within the next year.

The effect of the terrorist attacks on the mental health of Americans was also reflected in a study commissioned by the American Psychological Association, which surveyed 1,900 Americans in early 2002. About one in four adults said they felt more depressed or anxious than at other times in their life, with the Sept. 11 events key contributors to those symptoms (along with factors such as financial difficulties). More than three-quarters of Americans surveyed said they are reexamining and have tried simplifying their lives and are focusing more on "what really matters."

Elusive "Quick Fixes"

Especially in New York City, life seems to have changed forever in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, says Danieli. Americans tend to like quick fixes, she says, preferring immediate cleanup and rebuilding, then moving on. "But," she adds, "Sept. 11 is not a finished, finite event that happened and ended on that day, as though it were a natural disaster. People are still living with a great deal of uncertainty, including lingering threats of other forms of terrorism, and an ongoing and perhaps an upcoming war. There is no 'back to normal' after this kind of catastrophe."

Carol North, MD, professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, concurs. "Feelings of upset tend to lessen over time," she says. But that isn't always the case. In the year following 9/11, there has been a steady stream of incidents -- from the anthrax-tainted letters to the "shoe bomber" to the warnings from government officials to remain vigilant -- that have many people in what North calls "a state of constant unrest."

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