Not everyone reacted the same way to the 911 terrorist attack. A study by psychologists has found that people’s gender and ethnicity predicted their immediate response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks AND their general state of health over the next two years.

The study of a little over 1,500 people found that during the two years following the attacks, some subjects experienced poorer mental and/or physical health than others. The badly affected subjects included those whose initial reaction to the attacks was sympathy for the victims or sadness, those who initially endorsed violent retribution (versus non-violent reprisal or action directed elsewhere) and those who endorsed no action at all. The subjects’ sex and gender were both tied in with these initial emotional responses.

Researcher Mark D. Seery says, “Taken as a whole, our findings demonstrate that men and whites were more likely to adopt a problem-focused approach to coping with the trauma, while women and those of non-white ethnicity were more likely to adopt an emotion-based approach. Both approaches, in terms of long-term health, contained positive and negative aspects.

“Whites and men in this study expressed fewer sad and sympathetic responses to 9/11 than did women and other ethnicities (African American, Hispanic and a third category made up largely of Asian Americans). This would predict better long-term health for them, except for the propensity of whites and men to advocate violent retaliation, which was associated with poorer health outcomes over time.”

With regard to ethnicity, the study found that African Americans were twice as likely to respond emotionally after the attacks as were non-Hispanic whites. “Other ethnicities,” a group consisting primarily of Asian Americans, were marginally more likely than were whites to respond emotionally. African Americans were marginally more likely than whites to express sympathy for the victims and significantly more likely to express sadness. Hispanics reported higher levels of generalized distress than did whites and higher levels of post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms from 12 to 14 months post-9/11 than did whites.

Women were less likely than were men to endorse any action, including non-violent reprisal, and much less likely than were men to endorse explicitly violent retaliation. Women more frequently reported generalized distress in the two years after the attacks, higher levels of PTS symptoms from two to 24 months post 9/11 and more health ailments, than did men. Women were more than twice as likely as men to respond with emotion to the attacks. They were marginally less likely than men to respond with anger, more likely than men to respond with sympathy toward the victims and more likely to express sadness due to the events.

Subjects who endorsed explicitly violent retaliation after the attacks suffered relatively poorer health outcomes than those who endorsed non-violent reprisal, action directed elsewhere or no action. Maybe this is the one of the sources of the current US dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.

When you think about how YOU reacted to 911, take your sex and race into account, then see if your reaction fits these findings.

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