Public Release: 

9/11 boosted trust in government, temporary distress, research shows

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL -- Analyses of responses given by thousands of young U.S. adults interviewed shortly after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, showed surges both in sadness and in trust in government when compared with responses to interviews conducted shortly before the disasters. As expected, the closer respondents were to the crash sites, the more powerfully they were affected.

Overall, reported sadness returned to pre-incident levels within four to six weeks, while increased trust in national, state and local governments tended to persist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers found.

Men were more likely to report religious and spiritual feelings afterwards than before, and women were more likely to report higher levels of psychological stress than men following the attacks.

"Young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 were an important group to look at after 9/11 since some people perceive them to be anti-establishment and in at least one study they appeared to be more affected by the attacks than older Americans," said leader researcher Dr. Carol A. Ford. "They are the ones who disproportionately fight our wars."

The UNC study, by far the largest of its kind and in a way unique, involved analyzing data gathered during the third wave of interviews for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Nicknamed "Add Health," the research is a continuing long-term study of important influences on adolescents' lives. Wave I of the project, which involved 90-minute confidential interviews with randomly selected secondary school students, began in 1994. Wave II began in 1996.

Wave III analyzed answers to in-depth questionnaires administered personally and anonymously via computer to almost 3,000 subjects, aged 18 to 26, within two months before 9/11 and to identical questionnaires completed by more than 4,000 others up to two months afterward.

A report Ford, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote about the findings appears in the June issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a medical journal. Co-authors are Drs. J. Richard Udry, professor of sociology and the Carolina Population Center, and center statistician Kim Chantala. Udry directs the Add Health study.

"Our findings suggest that the majority of young adults across the United States did well after Sept. 11 and had only mild, transitory symptoms," the authors wrote. "The meaning of young adults' increased political trust in the aftermath of Sept. 11, its anticipated duration and its future implications will likely be debated among social and political scientists and become an area for ongoing research."

Other key findings were that there were no significant differences between groups interviewed either before or after 9/11 in substance use or abuse, and young people who admitted to previous psychiatric illnesses did not appear to be more affected by the tragedies than others. No differences were found between groups interviewed before and after in how respondents viewed their health and life expectancy.

In weeks immediately following 9/11, males were significantly more likely to report the personal importance of religion than were pre-9/11 respondents. The shocking events had little apparent effect on females' views on that subject, but they did boost the percentage of young women who said they felt especially close to their fathers.

Men, but not women, were more likely to donate blood following 9/11 than they were before.

"Add Health provides an unprecedented description of the reactions of young adults in the U.S. to the events of Sept. 11, 2001," the authors wrote. If similar events occur in the future, "based on this study, we would predict that most will experience transient sadness, young men will turn to religion in the weeks immediately following a disaster and both young men and young women will experience increased trust in the government. Young adults in close proximity to a disaster, particularly young women, appear to be most affected, and they should be included in research defining the role of post-disaster intervention."

Results of analyses of earlier ADD Health data sets have made national headlines several times, including in 1997 when researchers showed, among other things, that feeling connected with family, schools and religious organizations helped steer adolescents away from unhealthy acts such as drug and tobacco use and early sexual activity. A UNC report published in 2000 showed that pledges some adolescents take to delay sexual activity until marriage -- sometimes called "virginity pledges" -- tend to work when groups making the pledge are not too large and impersonal.


Support for Add Health comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, numerous other U.S. institutes and agencies and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Research Triangle Institute collected the data for Wave III of Add Health.

Note: Udry will speak with reporters about the 9/11 study results, (919) 966-2829.
Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

UNC News Services

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