the psychology affects of terrorism on Victims

Psychology of TerrorismPsychology of TerrorismPsychology of Terrorism

In previous posts, the study had given the public general ideas about terrorism. However, I also acknowledge that terrorism is very broad topic which this study can not cover all aspects for many reasons such as because of time as well as word limit. I hope that by other sources such as news, TV, and other researches, you may have a better understanding about terrorism. My ambitious in this series is also giving public a few ideas about victims of terrorism, especially psychology aspect.

By watching news people may know about terrorist group’s acts as well as the terroristic feel which they brought to people. To our anguish, terrorism has become one of the most destructive threats to the human condition. The acts of terrorist’s group not only physically harm to human body, but they also affect people’s psychology in short and long term (this study do not discuss the lost of economic, finance and infrastructure which was brought by terrorism). In this post, I am going to explore the psychological affect of terrorism on their victims, especially Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And it would like to support information from past incidents, for instance 9/11 US terrorist attacks.

Terrorism erodes the sense of security and safety people usually feel. This erosion of security is at both the individual level and the community level. Terrorism challenges the natural need of human beings to see the world as predictable, orderly, and controllable.

Waugh (2001) outlines several key components of terrorism such as the use of threat or extraordinary violence, goal- directed, intentional behaviour harm, the intention to psychologically disorganize and horrify not only the immediate victims, but those around them, the choice of victims for their symbolic value (even their innocence).

Given these elements, it is difficult to imagine a terroristic act that would not be considered as traumatic event (Silke, 2003).

Furthermore, there are researches which have shown that deliberate violence creates longer lasting mental health effects than natural disasters or accidents. The consequences for both individuals and the community are prolonged, and survivors often feel that injustice has been done to them. This can lead to anger, frustration, helplessness, fear, and a desire for revenge. Studies have shown that acting on this anger and desire for revenge can increase rather than decrease feelings of anger, guilt, and distress.

Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been an increasing amount of research about how people are affected by terrorism. A consistent finding is that while most individuals exhibit resilience over time, people most directly exposed to terrorist attacks are at higher risk for developing PTSD. PTSD is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder which may see from people who have experienced the greatest magnitude of exposure to the traumatic event, such as victims and their families. Problems with anxiety, depression, and substance use are also commonly reported among those with PTSD. Not only affect on members and family, predictors of PTSD include people being closer to the attacks, being injured, or knowing someone who was killed or injured and those who watch more media coverage are also at higher risk for PTSD and associated problems.

This study would like to give some information from 11/9 incident:

  • On September 11, 2001, the United States was forever changed. Following the single largest terrorist attack ever experienced by this country, thousands died or went missing, tens of thousands knew someone who was killed or injured, and many more witnessed or heard about the attack through media sources and by word of mouth. People at all levels of involvement were affected: victims, bereaved family members, friends, rescue workers, emergency medical and mental-health care providers, witnesses to the event, volunteers, members of the media, and people around the world.

  • Research on national samples in the U.S. revealed that 3-5 days afterward the attack 44% of Americans reported at least one symptom of PTSD (Schuster, Stein, et al., 2002). One to two months post-attack, 4% showed probable PTSD nationwide, and prevalence of PTSD in NYC residents was 11% (Schlenger, Caddell, et al., 2002). One study found that in American adults, amount of time watching TV coverage was related to PTSD symptoms ((Schuster, Stein, et al., 2002).

  • Within two months of incident, in the cities attacked prevalence of PTSD was 8% and prevalence of depression was 10% 3. Higher prevalences of PTSD were reported for those closer to the disaster (14-20%) (Galea and Ahern, et al., 2002; Grieger and Fullerton, et al., 2003), and for those actually in the building or injured (30%).

  • Prevalence of PTSD decreased during the 6 months following the disaster (Galea & Vlahov, et al., 2003), however alcohol and substance use remained high (Vlahov & Galea, et al., 2002). Depression was related to alcohol use increase, and along with PTSD was related to increased cigarette and marijuana use. Manhattan residents overall showed significant increase in the use of all three substances (Vlahov & Galea, et al., 2002).

As indicated above, rates of distress and posttraumatic symptoms have been found to be high in individuals studied following terroristic events. Ultimately, reducing the risk of traumatic stress reactions is best accomplished by abolishing trauma in the first place by preventing war, terrorism, and other traumatic stressors. The next approach is to foster resilience and bolster support so that individuals have a better coping capacity prior to and during traumatic stress. If two above options can not be done, third option is the early detection and treatment of traumatized individuals to prevent a prolonged stress response.

Next week is the final post for this series, so I am going to use that post to summarize what this series have done and explain why I wrote about those issues.


Galea, S., Ahern, J., Resnick, H., Kilpatrick, D., Bucuvalas, M., Gold, J., & Vlahov, D. (2002). Psychological sequelae of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. New England Journal of Medicine, Special Report 346, 982-987.

Galea, S., Vlahov, D., Resnick, H., Ahern, J., Susser, E.,Gold, J., Bucuvalas, M. & Kilpatrick, D. (2003). Trends of probable post-traumatic stress disorder in New York City after the September 11 terrorist attacks. American Journal of Epidemiology, 158(6), 514-524.

Grieger, T., Fullerton, C., & Ursano, R. J., (2003). Posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol use, and perceived safety after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Psychiatric Services, 54(10), 1380-1382.

Schlenger, W.,Caddell, J., Ebert, L., Jordan, B.K., Rourke, K., Wilson, D., Thalji, L., Dennis, J.M., Fairbank, J., & Kulka, R. (2002). Psychological reactions to terrorist attacks: findings from the National Study of Americans' Reactions to September 11. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(5), 581-588.

Schuster, MA, Stein BD, Jaycox, LH, Collins, RL, Marshall, GN, Elliot, MN, Shou, AJ, Kanouse DE, Morrison, JL and Berry SH (2002). A national survey of stress reactions after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(20), 1507-1512.

Silke, A. (2003). Terrorists, Victims and Society: Psychologycal perspectives on terrorism and its consequences.UK: Wiley.

Vlahov, D., Galea, S., Resnick, H., Ahern, J., Boscarino, J., Bucuvalas, M., Gold, J., & Kilpatrick, D. (2002). Increased use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana among Manhattan, New York, residents after the September 11th terrorist attacks. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155(11), 988-996.

Waugh, W.L., Jr. (2001). Managing terrorism as an environmental hazard. In A. Farazamand (Ed.), Handbook of Crisis energy Managerment, 659-676. Newyork: M. Dekker, Inc.


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