Emotional Stress and Coping in Response to Television News Coverage of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

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Emotional Stress and Coping in Response

to Television News Coverage

of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

Mary E. McNaughton
, Donald Allen Novian,

Tracie L. Holmes, University of Texas at San Antonio

Tom. L. Smith, University of Californi
a, San Diego

& VA Health Care Center

Online Publication Date:
January 07,


Journal of Media Psychology
, V 14
, No.
Winter, 2009

Keywords: Media, Emotions, Stress, Coping, 9/11


Few events have received the ext
ensive television news coverage
that was
devoted to the
t attacks of September 11, 2001, commonly known as “9/11.”

The current study assessed
television exposure and attention, and emotional responses to this coverage in a population
ly removed from the attacks. The results indicate that greater levels of exposure and
attention were related to increased distre
ss, but that emotional response

types shifted in significant
ways over the week, with gender, but not ethnicity, predictive of
such changes. People also engaged
in active coping strategies including distraction, decreased viewing, and changes in social support
seeking. These results suggest that emotional responses to news coverage of negative events do not
happen in a vacuum, but

are instead linked to deliberate viewing and coping choices, and are
influenced by the personal characteristics of those involved. In an increasingly mediated world

effective coping and stress management are dependent upon a better understanding of thes

Technological advances made during the twentieth century have resulted in significant
increases in the immediacy and graphic nature of television coverage of current events. This is
particularly apparent during moments of crisis
or conflict. The terrorist at
tacks on the World Trade

Twin Towers

in New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001
provide a perfect
example. Live coverage of the attacks began immediately and preempted all other programming on
most major tele
vision channel for days afterwards. Subsequent coverage involved repeated review of
the events, speculation about their causes, and implications for future such attacks (Marshall, Bryan,
Amsel, Suh, Cook, & Nerisa, 2007). While the gravity of the events m
erited extensive coverage, the
stress engendered in viewers by such coverage is a novel bi
product of modern western cultures and
has not been studied extensively.

The first disaster which had worl
wide impact was the eruption of the Indonesian volcano

akatau in 1883, largely because a worldwide telegraphic network had just been installed.
During the first half of the twentieth century media coverage of disasters, violence and wars was
done primarily through delayed reports via radio and newsprint, with
occasional newsreels, all of
which were heavily censored. While radio broadcasts by reporters such as Edward R. Murrow

were conducted during World War II, and newsreel footage was available, such sources were still
less vivid than live, real time televis
ion images. One exception was the first disaster ever
broadcast live, that of the 1937 Hindenberg


explosion at Lakehurst, New
Jersey, because the Hindenberg landing was being described by a radio announcer when it burst
into flames. T
he strength of real time coverage of events can also be illustrated by
the 1938

of H.G. Wells’ science
fiction novel,

War of the Worlds

on radio,
which caused

widespread panic until
people were told

that it was a fictional story. Clearly unp
technological and social changes in the latter half of the century drastically altered the ways in
which local, national, and world events are covered and made available to news consumers

During the Vietnam War


people became accust
omed to television
coverage of both military and civilian suffering, but by the first Gulf War

, major
conflicts were being covered in live time, both on the major networks, and o
n all news channels,
the most prominent example being CNN (Cable N
ew Network).

Numerous studies indicate that
the advent of 24
hour live coverage, in conjunction with increasingly competitive economic
forces, greatly increased the availability, sensationalism, and ubiquitous nature of news coverage
of such negative or d
isturbing events (Coleman, 1993; Shenk, 1997; Hickey, 1998). Seeing these
types of live events as they unfold, including th
e actual deaths of victims, in

your living room

lends an urgency and personal involvement to events that in the past was reserved fo
r participants
in the crisis. While it might seem intuitively likely that exposure to such news would necessarily
be linked to stress, significant attention has only been focused on these sorts of mediated
experiences since the
1995 domestic terror bombin
g of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

This is somewhat surprising given that television has long been regarded as a
socializing agent which can cause fear, alienation, and mistrust in heavy viewers (Gerbner,
Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1986; Haw
kins & Pingree, 1981; Rubin, Perse, & Taylor, 1988;
Potter, 1993). However, early stress researchers tended to focus only on those stressors that
affected a person directly (Safran, 1993), that caused a major disruption in an individual’s daily
life or fun
ction (Brown & Harris, 1989), or that impacted individuals who were already
experiencing mental health issues (Safran, 1992). This oversight is surprising in light of
experimental evidence suggesting that television viewing in general can provoke temporary

changes in mood or affect (Philippot, 1993; Gerrards
Hesse, Spies, & Hesse,1994), and that
pictorial images can elicit the same psychological and physiological effects as actual exposure to
certain stimuli (Bower, 1983; Newhagen,1998).

specific stu
dies suggest that news bulletins edited to display negative
material increased both anxiety and sad mood in viewers, who were also more likely to
catastrophize personal worries after the viewing than those shown clips edited to display positive
material (J
ohnston & Davey, 1997). Other studies suggest that cognitive, emotional, and
personality factors also moderate the relationships between news media exposure and stress
responses. For example, one study of levels of news media exposure, stress levels, irra
beliefs, optimism
pessimism, anxiety, and depression suggested that news media exposure and
anxiety were positively related in those with low levels of irrationality and that news media
exposure was associated with trait anxiety in those with low le
vels of optimism (McNaughton
Cassill, 2001). A related study suggested that general television exposure was predictive of
negative ratings of problems nationwide, but not of problems in the respondents’ own
communities, while attention paid to the televis
ion news was related to the perception that
problem levels were high at both the national and community level (McNaughton
Cassill &
Smith, 2002). Depression, irrational beliefs, and anger arousal were also related to ratings of
problems in the nation in g
eneral, while anger arousal and lack of optimism were predictive of
ratings of problems in respondents’ own communities. In other studies depression was shown to
be related to coverage of negative news events such as the 1982 Israel
Lebanon War (Hobfoll,
ridges, Lomranz, Eyal, & Tzemach (1989), and the Gulf War (Lomranz, Hobfoll, Johnson,
Eyal, & Zemach, 1994).

Studies conducted after the

Oklahoma City Bombing indicated that media
exposure to this event resulted in posttraumatic stress symptoms in
children, and
teachers, who did not have direct contact with the bombing or its victims (Pfefferbaum et al,
2002; Maynard, Meierhooefer, & Miller, 2000) ). The
sudden death of
Princess of
Wales, in 1997
also resulted i
n public outpourings o
f emotion:

behavioral responses such as the
leaving of flowers and markers at significant sites, and increased distress about her death in those
women who were exposed to high levels of coverage of the event and engaged in counterfactual
thinking about th
e circumstances of the accident, but had no personal relationship with the
woman (Pillow & McNaughton
Cassill, 2001).

The scope of these tragedies pale
s however, in comparison to the
destruction, loss of life, and disruption of the economic and


functions of
the 9/11
terrorist attacks, and
an entire nation

which watched nonstop

television coverage.

The news
media response to these attacks was rapid and extensive. Television channels became all
channels, and second
nd chronologies of events were produced within a week of the
event (Lasora, 2003). A random telephone survey conducted within days of the attacks suggested
that 44% of adults reported one or more substantial symptom

of stress and that 90% had
reported som
e evidence of stress (Schuster et. al. 2001).

A study of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in relation to the attacks suggested that
rates of PTSD were significantly higher in New York
than anywhere else in the country, but
that nationally the nu
mber of hours of television coverage viewed was associated with stress as
measured by a broad stress index (Schlenger et al., 2002). This study did not however, take into
account the amount of attention devoted to television coverage, which has been shown

to interact
with affective evaluations
of television content (Joslyn,
& Ceccoli, 1996). In addition, it did not

assess prior history of PTSD or anxiety. Another study conducted in New York suggested that
the interaction of being directly affected by the
attacks, and television viewing frequency resulted
in PTSD and depression, but that television viewing alone did not contribute to the development
of these disorders (Ahern, Galea, Resnick, Kilpatrick, Bucuvalas, Gold, & Vlahov, 2002).
Subsequent studies
have determined that the experience of a variety of past stressful life events
or depression increased the use of mental health services in the New York area (Boscarino,
Galea, Adams, Ahern, Resnick, & Vlahov, 2004), triggered PTSD in people who had previo
experienced trauma ( Ai, Santangelo, & Cascio, 2006), increased asthma severity and urgent
health care utilization (Fagan, Galea, Ahern, Bonner, & Vlahov, 2003) and stress in a hospital
inpatient population (Stout & Faroque, 2003.) Studies of trauma
in general support the argument
that subjective experiences are predictive of the development of PTSD independently of
objective exposure to the event (Creamer, McFarlane, & Burgess (2005). Findings of this nature
have led several reviewers to call for fur
ther study of these relationships and the role of television
in exposure to stressful events (Safran, 1993; 2002; Marshall, & Galea, 2004; North &
Pfefferbaum, 2004; Putnam, 2002.)

Individual factors such as gender and ethnicity are also of interest in t
he study of news
media exposure and stress.
Recent studies
suggest that

gender is predictive of responses to stress
such as anger, fear impact, and risk judgments, with males reporting less pessimistic risk
estimates than females (Lerner, Gonzalez, Small,

& Fischhoff, 2003) and college student women
reporting greater distress following 9/11 (Wayment, 2004 ). In terms of ethnicity, research in this
area has tended to focus ethnicity
related sources of stress (Contrada et al., 2000) and on the
stress relate
d to the portrayal of minorities in the media (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000). Less study
has been devoted to whether emotional responses to negative news events vary as a function to

ethnicity and what has been done is contradictory. For example, Adams & Bosc
arino (2005)
found little difference in depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms between Latinos, African
Americans and Whites after 9/11. Torabi & Seo (2004)


demonstrated that African
Americans were more likely than members of other ethnic groups
to limit activities outside the
home, to change their modes of transportation to avoid danger, and to talk less to others about
terrorism in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Clearly understanding how ethnicity interacts
with emotional responses to n
ews media coverage of negative events would help in the
understanding of such contradictory data.


It is the premise of this paper that a greater understanding of the effects of media
coverage of devastating events on mental heal
th is crucial in a society that is becoming ever more
connected electronically to events outsi
de a person’s

immediate experience. However, since media
viewing does not occur in a vacuum, factors which have previously been shown to have an impact on
ses to media including
gender, ethnicity and amount of viewing and listening time are

Emotional responses including anxiety, depression, and anger were assessed, as well as
the impact of the event itself on viewers, and how they interacted wit
h others about the events. The
following hypotheses were proposed.


elevision media viewers in a state geographically removed from the terrorist attacks
of 9/11

would report high levels of exposure and attention to coverage of the attac
ks immediately

the event,

but that this viewing would decrease over the week following the event as people
became saturated with information about the even

and returned to their daily routines.

The more media exposure and attention people reported in response
to the 9/11 attacks the
greater their reported stress and

ratings of

the impact of the event was expected to be

3) H
igh levels of trait anxiety
would be


with both increased media viewing and
elevated levels of emotional distress.



uld attempt to cope w
ith the stress of the events
by spending less time watching
coverage, by distracting themselves, and/or by seeking social support

as the week progressed.




responses to media coverage of the terrorist
event would

change over
the course of the week.


exhibit greater depression and anxiety in response to news media than men.

) The possibility that Hispanics and Caucasians

would differ in their responses to news media
coverage of 9/11 would be exp


The 392 participants in this study were recruited in a Texas University community in the
two w
eeks following the 9/11
attacks (age range 14
74, 254 female, 138 male, 184 Caucasian,
170 Hispanic, 12 Asian, 12 African
American; 14 unspecifi
ed). The sample included students,
staff, and faculty, as well as a small group of adolescents polled by distributing questionnaires to
the children and young friends of the researchers and other faculty members. Only three of the
subjects reported knowi
ng someone directly affected by the attacks. Within 2 weeks of the
attacks all participants completed a survey regarding their news media exposure and the attention
they paid to such coverage on the day of the attack and the following 5 days, the emotions

experienced in regard to the coverage, their current stress levels, the impact of the event in
general on them, and their levels of trait anxiety. All data were handled confidentially, and
subjects were fully informed about the study and their righ
t to refuse to answer questions or to
discontinue the study at any time.


Demographic information

Information regarding participants’ age, gender, marital status, and ethnicity was collected.

Media viewing


viewing was assessed using a qu
estionnaire modeled on the work of Pfau et al.
(1998). Participants rated the exposure they paid to television coverage of the event using a 5
point scale ranging in 2
hour increments from 2 hours or less to over 8 hours. Attention was rated
on a scale o
f 1 to 5 with 1 representing very little attention, and 5

total attention
. Subjects were
asked to complete these measures for the day of the attacks and the following five days.

Individuals were also asked to indicate whether or not they had deliberately
watching disturbing coverage, whether they had deliberately distracted themselves to avoid the
topic, and how much they had conversed with others about the event to cope using a 5 point scale
ranging from very little to an extreme amount.

ant emotion by da


were asked to select their predominant emotion for each day from a list
including shock, fear, helplessness, depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, and an open other category.
In order to explore the relationships among these variab
les 3 clusters of emotional responses,
anger, anxiety, and depression, were created. The grouping of these emotions was based on the
content of the questions, and parallels basic emotional research indicating that these 3 particular
emotions are associated

with specific types of appraisal of stressful events and risk (Lerner &
Keltner, 2001; Lerner, Gonzalez, Small, & Fisc
hoff, 2003; Fisc
hoff, Gonzalez, Lerner, &
Small, 2005; Small, Lerner, & Fisc
hoff, 2006.)

The first of our variables, entitled MAD

as used to describe anger and was made up of
anger and shock responses. The second, called BAD to reflect anxiety, was made up of anxiety
and fear responses. Finally, SAD was created to represent sadness, by including helplessness,
guilt, and depression i

Clinical stress



of Clinical
tress (Abell, 1991) was used to measure subjective stress. This 25
item scale has high internal consistency. The Cronbach Alpha for this study sample was .94.

Impact of Event

Participants were asked to c
omplete the 15
item Impact of Events Scale (Horowitz,
Wilner, & Alvarez, 1979) with the terrorist events of 9/11 specifically in mind. This measure
assesses intrusive experiences including ideas, feelings, and dreams as well as avoidance of
reminders of t
he event and is believed to have good internal consistency. The Cronbach Alpha
(Cronbach, 1956) in the current study sample was .84.


Trait anxiety was assessed using the Speilberger State/Trait Anxiety Inventory
(Speilberger, 1983). This well
earched scale consists of a self
report scale that measures trait
anxiety. Item 8 was inadvertently omitted from the questionnaire rushed to participants, so trait
anxiety means may be slightly lower than published norms. However the Cronbach Alpha of .80

was within the acceptable range for good reliability.


As predicted in Hypothesis 1, television viewing was high on day one, and dropped over
the following week. Eighty
four percent of participants watched 3 or more hours of television on

the day

of the attacks, with 21% of those surveyed reporting greater than 8 hours of viewing.
However, on the Sunday after the attacks, only 20% of people watched more than 3 hours of
coverage, and only .8% of those watched more than 8 hours. See Table 1. A repea
ted measures

across the 6 days surveyed demonstrated that this drop in television viewing was
significant (F(5, 1930)=153.48, p<.01, eta
=.47), as was the drop in attention paid to what was
viewed (F(5, 1930)=215.90, p<.01 eta

Table 1

and Standard Deviations for Television Exposure and Attention by Day




Mean Standard Deviation

Mean Standard Deviation
































Note: 9/11 occurred on Tuesday, data in this study were collected through the following
weekend. Ratings were made on 5
point scales ( Exposure: 1= 2 hours or less, 5= greater than 8
hours; Attention:1= very little, 5=total)

Greater levels of exposure t
o news media coverage of the events of 9/11 were
but significantly

correlated with increased reports of stress (r= .21. p<.01) and of strong
emotional responses to the impact of the event (r=.21, p<.01), as predicted in Hypothesis 2.
Likewise, hig
her levels of attention were significantly correlated with stress (r=.13, p<.01) and
with the impact of the events (r=.25, p<.01). Trait anxiety was predicted to be associated with

television exposure and attention, and distress in Hypothesis 3. The resul
ts indicate that trait
anxiety was
modestly but

significantly related to levels of exposure (r=.11, p<.01), higher stress
(r=.40, p<.01), and increased event impact (r=.17, p<.01), but not to levels of attention paid to
the media. See Table 2.

Table 2

rrelations between Exposure and Attention to Television Coverage of 9/11, Clinic
Stress, the

Impact of Events, and Trait Anxiety


Television Exposure




Clinical Stress



Impact of Events



Trait Anxiety






In regard to Hypothesis 4, Cochran’s Nonparametric tests suggest that the viewers
deliberately spent less time watching coverage of the events of 9/11 as the week went on
(Cochran’s Q(5)=17.68, p<.01), and more time distractin
g themselves from coverage (Cochran’s
Q (5)=24.2, p<.05). Emotional support derived from talking and emailing others about the event
dropped over the week as well (F (5, 1875)=76.3, p<.01 eta

In order to evaluate Hypothesis 5 that predicted that
emotional response would vary
across the week within individuals, Cochran’s comparisons of the percentages of people
reporting their predominant emotion on each day of the week suggested that shock was a
common emotion on the first day, but diminished sign
ificantly over the week (Cochran’s Q(5)=

736.33, p < .01). Reports of fear decreased significantly as well (Cochran’s Q(5) =13.68, p<.01).
Helplessness was high on the first day, and then dropped across the week (Cochran’s Q (5)
=40.03, p<.01) while dep
ression climbed significantly over the week (Cochran’s Q (5) = 14.68,
p<.01). Reports of guilt did not change significantly over the week (Cochran’s Q (5) =2.83,
p<.73). The change in anger across the week was significant (Cochrane’s Q (5) =24.07, p<.01

Comparisons of changes in membership between our three emotional groups
indicated that 72% of participants fell into the MAD category on the day of the attacks. However,
these percentages changed over the week, with only 31% of participants falling in

this category
by the end of the week. At that point 24% fell into the BAD or anxious category, and 19% into
the SAD, or depressed category. The remainder classified themselves as Other either at the
beginning or the end of the week, and so were not inclu
ded in these analyses. See Table 3.

Table 3

Percentages of Participants by Emotion on Tuesday 9/11 and 6 days later (Sunday)


Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday





43.3% 40.7%

40.5% 31%


9% 19.2% 26.1% 30.1% 29.4%



11.6% 17.2% 20.5% 21.6% 22.3% 24%

Note. The rem
ainder of the participants fell into the “other” category and were not included in
this analysis.

A series of ANOVAs were conducted to evaluate the relationships between gender,
ethnicity, and television viewing and our emotional change groups in order
to determine whether
women and Hispanics were more emotionally distressed by viewing coverage of the events of
9/11 as predicted in Hypothesis 6. The results in regard to television viewing indicated that there

was a significant interaction of gender and c
hange in emotional group for both exposure (F(1,
265)=3.364, p<.05), and attention (F(1, 265)=3.19, p<.02). An evaluation of the means in both
cases suggested that women were more likely than men to become depressed (SAD) by the end
of the week, while men
were more likely to become anxious (BAD).

When comparisons were made between our two largest ethnic groups, Caucasians and
Hispanics, in regard to television exposure, there was no significant effect for ethnicity or the
interaction of ethnicity and chang
e group. However, there was a main effect for emotional
change overall (F(1, 236)=.021, p<.05), which suggested that a change from MAD to SAD was
most common. For television attention there were no significant main effects for ethnicity or
emotional grou
p, and there was no interaction. Gender, ethnicity, and emotional change were
also evaluated in relation to television exposure within an ANOVA.

However, only the gender
by emotional change interaction was significant (F(1,236 )=12.97, P<.05), with femal
es again
being more likely to become SAD over the week than males.


The results of this study support our initial hypotheses, and corroborate the findings of
other studies (Schlenger et al., 2002), by indicating that the majority of respondents

from a state
geographically removed from New York City were exposed to significant amounts of television
coverage of the events of September 11, 2001 in the first few days following the attacks.

As might be
expected, this exposure dropped off over the we
ek following the attacks. Data regarding attention
paid to this coverage indicate a similar pattern as viewing dropped off over the week. While this drop
is presumably linked to a return to daily activity, and a decrease in new information available thro
the media, it is also consistent with the idea that at least some participants made a conscious choice to
limit repeated coverage of the stressful events.

The fact that people in this study reported deliberately moderating their viewing of stressful
overage by limiting what they watched or distracting themselves supports the idea that media
viewing is an active process that does not occur in a vacuum, but rather is a choice made by
individuals (McNaughton
Cassill, 2001). This finding is also consiste
nt with data indicating that two
months after 9/11, approximately 25% of one research
sample reported actively avoiding

reminders of
the events (Silver, Holman, McIntosh, Poulin, & Gil
Rivas, 2002). Respondents in the current study
also reported that as t
he week wore on they decreased their efforts to communicate with others about
the event. While this might appear counter intuitive based on studies of other communities in crisis
where social support seemed to mitigate event related emotional distress (Kan
iasty, & Norris, 2004),
the key difference may be whether responders were actively involved in the crisis, or bystanders
whose involvement in the crisis was literally media driven. Decreasing conversations regarding a
negative event that has not directly
impacted your own life may actually represent a strategy for
minimizing reminders and/or for avoiding ineffectual “venting,” both of which have been suggested
as possible effective approaches to emotion focused coping (Maguen, Papa, & Litz, 2008).

As pre
dicted, there was also a relationship between greater media exposure and psychological
distress about the disaster. Both exposure to the media, and attention paid to this coverage in the first
few days, were related to the strength of the impact of the ev
ent on individuals, and to reports of
symptoms of clinical stress. While it is not possible in this study to definitively determine whether
media viewing is the cause, or result, of such stress responses, the findings do suggest that television
viewing an
d emotional responses to distant, tragic events are linked, and conceivably influence each

Trait anxiety was related to news media exposure, but it is not clear whether such anxiety is
the cause or result of such viewing. It is possible that high l
evels of trait anxiety influence self

reported recall of responses to stressful events. Future longitudinal studies, particularly those
including the measure of state anxiety, might be able to better elucidate this relationship.

Clearly, simply assessin
g the total amount of exposure a person has to a media event does not
adequately explain its impact on their emotional state. Variables that were not assessed in this study
including the individual’s appraisal of the meaning of the event as explicated by
Terror Management
Theory (Pyszczynski, Solomon, & Greenberg, 2003), appraisals of perceived life threat (Ozer et al.,
2003) and coping ability and preferences (Gil & Caspi, 2006; Zeidner, 2005) are also likely to impact
choices regarding amount of media ex
posure, approaches towards social support, an
d subsequent
emotional state.
Future studies would do well to assess how emotions and attitudes influence the
process of regulating exposure to media coverage of stressful events. It is possible that individual
with high threat perceptions and high levels of perceived control selectively increase their viewing in
an effort to increase their sense that they are coping with the situation, while others with different
combinations of threat perception and coping op
tions choose to avoid such information, much the
way people show variable approaches to stressful medical information according to the health locus
of control literature (
Wallston, Maides, & Wallston, 1976). Such factors might also account for
findings suc
h as those of
Rubin, Brewin, Greenberg, Simpson, & Wessely (2008) following the
bombings in London on July 7, 2005 indicating that only 31% of Londoners reported substantial
stress following the event, and 32% an intention to travel less, despite widesprea
d media coverage of
the events.

Our results also clearly indicate that emotional responses varied across the week. As might be
expected, people were initially shocked and angry about the attacks. However, this emotional
consistency did not persist through
out the week. Significant numbers of participants became SAD, or
depressed, while others switched to feeling BAD, or anxious by the final time sample. Women were

most likely to become SAD, which is consistent with the demographic distribution of depressio
n in
the population (Nol
Hoeksema, 1990). Although it’
s possible that this is simply a function of the
tendency of women to admit to feeling depressed, it may also be that there is a gender based
difference in sensitivity to stressful events, which can b
e triggered by media viewing of stressful

This finding also ties in well with research suggesting that women developed posttraumatic
stress disorder in relation to the events of 9/11 at a higher rate than did men (Pulcino, Galea, Ahern,
Foley, & Vlahov, 2003) and supports the research of Richman,Wislar, Flaherty, Fendrich, &
Rospenda (2004) that indicated that women who were experiencing work place stress were more
likely to report increased anxiety and alcohol consumption after 9/11 than

were men. Interestingly,
measures of guilt did not change across the week. This is a useful observation in that it indicates that
people did not simply report all of their emotions in a uniform or systematic way, but actually
distinguished between their

experience of different emotions across time. Consequently, this measure
of guilt serves as an anchor to substantiate the argument that self
reports of changes in emotional
experiences over the week following the a
ttacks were not uniform.

Given the pauci
ty of data on emotional responses to news media exposure as a function of
ethnicity, we viewed this aspect of the current study as exploratory, and in fact did not find any
significant main effects or interactions among ethnicity, emotional responsivity, a
nd news media
viewing. This may

in part

be due to the fact that the participants were drawn from among students,
staff, and faculty at a University and so may be more acculturated than participants with less exposure
to mainstream cultural ideas and lan
guage. It has
long been known that ethnicity
specific stress can
affect both people's experience of stress, and how they cope. (Enrique et al. 2004; Contrada et al
2000;Hobfoll, 2004). However, research regarding the role of ethnicity in response to disa
sters is still

relatively new, and contradictory. For example, Torabi & Seo (2004) found that after 9/11 African
Americans made more safety related behavioral changes than did Caucasians, while Adams and
Boscarino (2005) found no differences in mental or p
hysical health among African American,
Hispanic and Caucasians living in New York after the terrorist attacks. Although there is a robust
literature regarding
he ways in which minority members are portrayed on television (Mastro and
Greenberg, 2000) and

on the responses of minority viewers to minority related coverage (Fujioka,

2005; Albert, & Jacobs, 2008), less is known about the influence of ethnicity on responses to media
coverage of negative news events such as disasters, which impact a wide variety

of people. Future
studies would do well to assess whether news media exposure does impact people differently as a
function of ethnicity in certain contexts, or if

in fact

whether the overall findings of the study would
change if the range of particip
ants varied. Clearly further research needs to be done regarding the
influence of ethnicity and culture on stress responses to disasters.

Although it must be acknowledged that the data collected in this study were retrospective, the
fact that participants
were able to distinguish their viewing and their emotional responses in
differential ways across the time period suggests that they did not simply deliver standard responses
across the survey. The strength of the observed emotional responses to the media
coverage of the
events of 9/11 bolsters the concept that the line between real life experiences and mediated ones is
breaking down (deZengotita, 2005). People who are far from the scene of a tragedy are now being
exposed to visual and auditory presentatio
ns of the event which make it hard to maintain emotional
distance or objectivity, although participants clearly reported making efforts to consciously manage
their exposure through viewing choices, distraction, and limiting their conversations about the ev

Evidence for resilience in the face of major disasters (Bonanno, Galea, Bucciarelli, & Vlahov,
2006), also suggests that understanding the links between media exposure to stressful events and

emotional distress could reveal factors which promote p
ositive coping. On a societal level,
understanding peopl

s responses to news media coverage of stressful events is crucial as recent data
suggests that media
induced emotions can influence appraisals and decisions regarding public
policies (Lerner, 2003)
, and that government and media responses in turn amplify emotions

such as

among the public (Ahern, Galea, Resnick, & Blahov, 2004.)

On an individual level, we need to understand these links in order to effectively predict who
might be at risk
for adverse responses to particular types of news media stress, and to develop coping
strategies and stress management techniques to help them deal with this technologically driven aspect
of modern life. Teaching people to watch media in objective ways and

evaluate what they
see in terms of content, source, and reliability could also improve their ability to cope with negative
news coverage. Such training could be particularly important in regard to disaster coverage as
research suggests that

media exposure to traumatic public events can lead to an increase in memory

for viewed material

(Ost, Grana, Udell, & Roos af Hjelmaster, E. (2008)
, which could
result in inappropriate or exaggerated emotional responses.

Ironically, we curren
tly spend far more

teaching people to critically evaluate literature and film than on how to think about the news and
marketing they see on a daily basis.

On a media level, much remains to be learned about how best to structure news coverage in

that viewers find useful, and not just sensational. One possibility would be a greater emphasis
on presenting information in context (historical, statistical, likelihoods, etc), instead of in absolute or
emotional terms. For example,


reports of da
mage or death due to wildfires often imply that
of fire damage is increasing exponentially,
when in fact
rising levels of damage largely reflect
increases in the
number of people settling and living in wildfire risk areas
Schwab & Meck, 2007


However, even better explanations of risk statistics may not be enough

to alter
responses to disaster coverage (
Bond, 2008).

Research on risk assessment suggests that people tend
to give priority to strong feelings when making judgments abo
ut risk,
evidence supporting less
emotional, more rational choices (Slovic, Peters, Finucane, & MacGregor, 2005; Wilson & Arvai,
2006). Given the pressures on the media to draw viewer attention and advertising, it is unlikely that
we will see medi
a outlets
voluntarily reducing their

efforts to capture viewer attention through

emotional, sensational stories

and images
. A

greater emphasis on the impact of suc
coverage in the social sector

with an increased
understanding of
the view
ing process


have the potential to

mitigate some of the stress of living in an

increasingly mediated modern world.

Correspondence should be addressed to

Mary McNaughton
Cassill, Ph.D.

Psychology Department

One UTSA Circle

University of Texas at San

San Antonio, Texas 78249



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