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Press Release: How Psychology Stepped in After 9/11

8 September 2011

Washington, DC, 8 September 2011 - On Sunday, the United States will reflect on the tragedy of 9/11, commemorated in its 10th anniversary, and the thousands of people who lost their lives in Washington, DC, New York City, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Thoughts will turn to the millions of others who have been affected by the disaster; families, friends, and compatriots of the dead and injured, and soldiers and citizens in foreign theatres of war.

As our minds ponder the incalculable trauma of the 9/11 experience, psychologists have stepped in to ask questions on the health of our recovery and the national preparedness for similar crises. These are questions to which our leaders and we as individuals can speak to with sympathetic words, gestures of kind support, and conscientious action in our communities.

Editor of a special issue of American Psychologist, Roxane Cohen Silver, highlighted the central role of psychology in a post 9/11 environment when she recently stated that “goals of terrorism are inherently psychological in nature”. Its visible consequence is physical destruction but its strategic objective is to bring about terror to society’s members.

What have psychologists learned in the ten years since the attacks? And, has the preparedness of governments and citizens improved as a result?

Studies show that and social support networks are the most reliable way to minimize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though it is unclear what determined individual levels of PTSD in the aftermath of 9/11, some demographic trends have been striking in their effects. Holman and Cohen Silver, for example, found that reporting of physical ailments to healthcare services in the U.S. went up by 18%.

In a recent article published in the American Psychologist, Cohen Silver and Baruch Fischhoff analyzed psychological research before and after 9/11 to make predictions about how the country might respond in a second 9/11 scenario. The conclusions were mostly positive: we have made considerable progress in identifying individual and societal interventions for combating the growth of terrorists, and we have developed strategies that increase our chances of foiling terrorist plots, and improved tools for assessing infrastructure resilience.

The science of human behavior is a tool for understanding a post 9/11 world, and can also serve as an invaluable guide in our response to the threat of terrorism. The suffering caused by such a cataclysmic assault on innocent people has a lasting influence which needs to be addressed by ongoing social and psychological care on the many levels of our multifaceted society.

For media enquiries, contact SPSSI Policy Coordinator, Alex Ingrams,; 202-675-6956.

Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin