How 9/11 changed us: First-ever quantitative research documents the before and after effect

ST. LOUIS -- If a goal of terrorism is to make victims feel less in control of their own destinies, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 succeeded, according to new research from Saint Louis University. The unusual study, published in this month's Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, is the first to compare people's attitudes before and after the attacks.

"Most people raised within the Judeo-Christian tradition believe that life is at least relatively fair," said Fredric Wolinsky, Ph.D., professor at Saint Louis University School of Public Health and the lead investigator on the study. "They believe that if you work hard, you can succeed. The attacks of Sept. 11 changed that for many people.

"In a sense this demonstrates that the attacks were successful. They changed deep-seated psychological assumptions."

Wolinsky said it usually is impossible to study the effects of a traumatic event like 9/11, because researchers can't collect baseline data about how participants felt ahead of time.

"You have to know ahead of time when an attack will occur," he said. "Only the attackers know that, and they're not going to do a study."

Wolinsky's research was made possible only by coincidence.

His team already had begun an investigation of how patients with illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and asthma felt about their lives. Participants were asked questions about their mental health, levels of personal stress and feelings of control over their lives.

"We saw an opportunity to gauge how this event changed people's feelings about their lives," he said.

While feelings of personal stress and mental well-being did not change, participants were much more likely to report they disagreed with statements such as "I am responsible for my own successes," and, "my misfortunes are the result of mistakes I have made," than they were prior to Sept. 11. The findings are even more stri

Contact: Matt Shaw
Saint Louis University

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