America Bounces Back

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 25, 2001
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 25, 2001 -- Across America, feelings of national pride, confidence, and faith in people seem to have survived the tragedy of Sept. 11 -- a good sign of the country's resilience, according to a new study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

In fact, people seem to be doing better than in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the study shows.

After the Kennedy tragedy, people reported a big drop in their normally positive feelings about life, says study author Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey, which is part of the National Opinion Research Center, in a news release.

"Emotionally, Kennedy's assassination seems to have had a larger impact on psychological well- being than the terrorist attacks," says Smith.

The current survey -- called the National Tragedy Study -- is based on random telephone calls made to more than 2,100 Americans across the U.S. during the two weeks after the Sept. 11 tragedy.

The results were compared with those of an ongoing national study -- the General Social Survey -- which tracks American values, attitudes, and behaviors. For decades, social scientists have used that survey to monitor changes in public perceptions.

Among the questions Americans were asked:

  • Has your confidence in various institutions -- Congress, the executive branch of the government, organized religion, banks and financial institutions, major companies, and the military -- changed?
  • Do you have less pride in U.S. history, in America's armed forces, in scientific and technological achievements, arts and literature, economic achievements? In the way democracy works? In the country's political influence in the world? In its fair and equal treatment of all groups in society?
  • Are you less proud of being a citizen of America? Do you think America is a better country than most other countries?
  • Do you think the world would be a better place if foreigners were more like Americans? Should people support their country even if they think the country was in the wrong? Are there some things that make you ashamed of America?

Researchers found that across the country, Americans had:

  • stronger feelings of anger after the Sept. 11 attacks than after the 1963 tragedy. In 1963, people reported feeling ashamed as well as angry. This year, there were no strong feelings of shame.
  • weaker physical reactions to the recent tragedy than they did in 1963 (with the exception of New Yorkers). More people reported feeling nervous, upset, dazed, and numb in 1963. In contrast, 60% of people this year reported crying, compared to 53% in 1963.
  • increased faith in fellow citizens this year (67% said that most people are helpful, and 63% said they felt people in general are fair).
  • increased confidence in American institutions (77% had a great deal of confidence in the military, compared with 61% during the Gulf War).
  • increased confidence in the executive branch -- it tripled this year to 52%.
  • increased confidence in organized religion, corporations, and Congress (the highest confidence level in these areas in nearly three decades).
  • increased feelings of national pride (97% felt they would rather be citizens of the U.S. than of any other country).

The study also showed that 49% of Americans made contributions to charities and 24% donated or tried to donate blood after Sept. 11. Eighty-four percent of people said "special prayers."