However, the findings of our first study, done on September 13, revealed that a large number of those in our sample had more concern about their own self-preser- vation than with issues of national unity and patriotism.

Comments such as “Life is too uncertain. I need to look out for me,” and “I am interested in being safe” were common responses.

Experts on death and trauma tell us that survivors usually experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, and disbelief.

Two days after the September 11 event, 87 per- cent of our sample reported experiencing at least one negative emotion they attrib- uted to the terrorist attacks.

Fifty-two per- cent felt sad, 39 percent reported feeling scared, and 31 percent felt angry.

Participants also reported experiencing a host of other negative emotions such as confusion.

“It all seems like a Hollywood movie to me” was a typical response.

This finding is in harmony with terror management theory, which predicts, among other things, that after a highly salient life- threatening event, people will disassociate themselves from forces outside themselves and concentrate on self-preservation. We wondered, then, what factors would help Americans move beyond their initial self- oriented reactions.


In our second study, we found that as time passed, some people’s negative emotions tions were channeled into displays of patri- otism. The media was full of stirring speeches, celebrity-filled events, profiles and celebrations of heroes—all powerful in message and image.

However, it was the display of the American flag, people report- ed, that was the most powerful symbol influencing patriotism.

The act of going to war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan also helped people to recon- struct their own personal reality.

For many people in our third study, feelings of sadness persisted two months after the September 11 tragedy.

But the national icon of the flag helped the people in our sample restore a sense of meaning to their lives and deal with fear. By holding onto something collectively that made them individually feel stronger, they were able to reconstruct the reality that had been shattered. We learned from this study that it really is true that people “rally ’round the flag.”

9/11 Aftermath Social Psychology Studie