Survey Studied Sociological and Psychological Effects of September 11th Attacks

Survey of the public response to a national tragedy

Between 2001 and 2002, researchers from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago studied how Americans reacted to, and coped with, the terrorist attacks in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on September 11, 2001.

Researchers surveyed public reactions to the September 11th terrorist attacks via the National Tragedy Study. The researchers designed the survey so that they could compare the results with those from the National Opinion Research Center's Kennedy Assassination Study in 1963.

Key Findings: Researchers reported findings in three papers. In the report on the first round of the National Tragedy Survey, which they submitted to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Kenneth D. Rasinski, Ph.D., the principal research scientist reported:

  • National pride, confidence in institutions and faith in people and human nature increased after the attacks.
  • While both Democrats and Republicans increased their confidence in the executive branch, Democrats' confidence was lower than that of Republicans.
  • Respondents nationally experienced an average of 4.3 of 15 stress-related symptoms. New York City residents reported 5.3 symptoms on average.

    Crying was the most reported symptom—60 percent nationally and 72 percent in New York. New York City residents reported a higher percentage of 11 of the 15 symptoms than residents in the nation at large.
  • Other common symptoms in both the nation and New York were "feeling nervous and tense" and "having trouble getting to sleep."

    About 44 percent of those in the nation and in New York City reported feeling "dazed and numb," and 36 percent in both locations reported that they had an upset stomach.

Researchers reported the following findings comparing reactions to September 11 to those at the time of the Kennedy assassination in Public Perspective (September/October 2002):

  • Kennedy's death seems to have had a more negative emotional and psychological impact than the terrorist attacks did.
  • Reactions to the Kennedy assassination and the September 11th attacks were similar in some ways. For example, after Kennedy's assassination, 54 percent of Americans did not continue their normal activities, 25 percent carried on as usual but found this difficult and 20 percent carried on pretty much as usual.

    After the terrorist attacks, 49 percent of Americans stopped their usual activities, 27 percent carried on with difficulty and 24 percent continued as normal.