The American Psyche, Post-9/11
How 9/11 Changed Us
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
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
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."