Predictors Of Adjustment To September 11th, 2001 And The Anthrax Attacks
Swanson, Jeffrey Nathanael
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While the effects of September 11th, 2001 have been heavily studied, effects of the Anthrax attacks that directly followed has not been a widespread focus of research. This set of events, however, may be more representative of terrorism as it exists across the world, and there is both theoretical and empirical evidence indicating that responses to the Anthrax attacks may be worse than to 9/11. The following secondary data analysis was conducted to identify factors that predict adjustment to the Anthrax attacks among individuals with only vicarious exposure. Based on available empirical and theoretical data, it was hypothesized that individual level of perceived threat from anthrax as well as mental and behavioral adjustment outcomes would all be predicted by initial reactions to the Anthrax attacks. Initial reactions tested included individual perceptions of who was to blame for 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks, whether or not something could have been done to prevent them, amount of worry about exposure to anthrax through the mail, amount of threat perceived from 9/11 as it relates to anthrax threat, and amount of exposure to media coverage of 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks. Mental health outcomes of adjustment included individual perceived stress, symptoms of posttraumatic stress, positive and negative change in outlook, worrying about themselves, and worrying about others. Behavioral outcomes of adjustment included level of perceived safety in entering government or office buildings in the wake of the Anthrax attacks, as well as amount of change in monitoring for illness symptoms. It was hypothesized that initial reactions to the Anthrax attacks would predict perceived threat, mental, and behavioral outcomes of adjustment, Furthermore, threat was expected mediate reactions to the Anthrax attacks and adjustment outcomes, while mental health outcomes were also expected to mediate the relationship between initial reactions and behavior outcomes of adjustment. Questionnaires were mailed out 2-3 months after the initial Anthrax attacks, and again 8 months after. Participants completed the questionnaires and mailed them back to the researchers. Linear mixed models were employed to test the hypotheses while not excluding data for participants that returned only the first questionnaire. Initial reactions predicted perceived anthrax threat and adjustment outcomes. More worry about mail exposure to anthrax and more threat from 9/11 predicted perceived anthrax threat, perceived stress, posttraumatic stress, negative outlook change, worry about themselves, perceived safety, and illness monitoring. Furthermore, perceived threat mediated these relationships. Posttraumatic stress symptomatology also predicted more perceived safety, and posttraumatic stress mediated the relationships between 9/11 and anthrax threat on perceived safety. Overall, perceived anthrax threat was a powerful indicator of mental and behavioral adjustment outcomes and should be an area of initial assessment to determine individuals at risk for more chronic symptomatology. These results were discussed within the context of why the Anthrax attacks were related to 9/11 but nevertheless produced different effects. Alternative ideas were presented which may help explain some unexpected findings.