A Congressional Briefing in Support of the Decade of Behavior
Reactions to Terrorism: Attitudes and Anxieties
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On June 18 COSSA joined the American Political Science Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association in sponsoring a congressional briefing entitled Reactions to Terrorism: Attitudes and Anxieties. The event was held under the guise of the Decade of Behavior, a multidisciplinary initiative stretching from 2000-2010 to focus the talents, energy, and creativity of the social and behavioral sciences on meeting many of society’s most significant challenges; COSSA Executive Director Howard Silver served as moderator.
Reactions to 9/11 Attacks
Michael Traugott, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Studies, and Senior Research Scientist, Institute of Social Research (ISR), University of Michigan, presented Six Months Later: American Attitudes and Beliefs Changed by 9/11. He explained that the study was compiled by a diverse group of ISR researchers, and it was designed to measure personal reactions and psychological responses to the attacks, effects on children and families, and attitudes about civil liberties and anti-terrorism measures.
According to Traugott the study took the form of two waves of household telephone surveys. The first wave (W1) was carried out between September and October, 2001 and included 752 contacts. The second wave (W2) was completed during March and April of this year; 613 households were interviewed again, and 151 new contacts were made. Results from the surveys include:
· Forty-nine percent of W1 respondents indicated that the attacks shook their personal sense of safety and security either a great deal or a good amount.
· That 49 percent followed the news coverage of the attacks more closely than households that were less shaken by the terrorism.
· Male respondents were less likely to be shaken by the attacks than females.
· More than half of the respondents showed at least one depressive symptom following the attacks.
· Respondents shaken by the attacks were more likely to support varied anti-terrorism measures.
Traugott concluded by relating the study’s conclusions, which notes: “Americans’ loss of a sense of personal safety and security persists and is complicated by the difficulty of keeping the country on alert to minimize harm and defining a clear ‘result’ in the ‘war on terrorism’ that the public understands and can accept.”
Traugott was followed by Len Lecci, Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina (UNC), Wilmington, who presented on Bioterrorism and the Role of Perceived Control in Minimizing Automated Fears: Preliminary Analysis. Lecci did his research in collaboration with fellow UNC, Wilmington Psychologist Dale Cohen, and it focused on the anthrax attacks that occurred last fall.
Lecci related that the extensive media coverage of the anthrax incidents made Americans think that they were much more at risk of contracting the disease than they really were – a condition termed “perceived vulnerability.” He stated that this condition in general (called hypochondriasis) can lead to a dangerous abuse of the public health system. In the anthrax case, this was manifested in the high number of cipro and other antibiotic prescriptions. This was problematic in that it depleted drug supplies and made interventions less effective through misuse.
Lecci and Cohen’s research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), tested UNC, Wilmington students to measure the response of hyponchondriacs to health threats. They found that by influencing beliefs about risks and providing perceived control, hypochondriasis can be minimized.
The final speaker was Mansoor Moaddel, Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University, who addressed The Impact of 9/11 on Value Orientations of the Islamic Public in Egypt. He presented data from surveys taken of Egyptians both pre- and post-9/11 that are part of a larger study of public opinion in Egypt, Jordan, and Iran, also funded by NSF.
Moaddel related that since September 11, Egyptians are more likely to view the prevalent Western cultural invasion as a very important problem. In addition, they are now almost united (99.8 percent) in opposition to having Jews as neighbors. The survey also found that Egyptians are now less likely to express confidence in the ability of religious authorities to adequately respond to social problems. Finally, the surveys showed that Egyptians now view democratic systems of government in a far more favorable light than before 9/11.
Moaddel explained that the results suggest that Egypt is experiencing a cultural change “in a direction favorable to democracy, gender equality, and secularism, and away from the Islamic fundamentalism of the past decades.” But he noted that this cultural change is guided by the perception that Western culture is not good for the country.
More information about the Decade of Behavior can be found at its website, www.decadeofbehavior.org.