Media’s role in broadcasting acute stress following the Boston Marathon bombings

Edited by Shelley E. Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, and approved November 14, 2013 (received for review August 28, 2013)
December 9, 2013
111 (1) 93-98

Significance

Media coverage of collective traumas may trigger psychological distress in individuals outside the directly affected community. We examined whether repeated media exposure to the Boston Marathon bombings was associated with acute stress and compared the impact of direct exposure (being at/near the bombings) vs. media exposure (bombing-related television, radio, print, online, and social media coverage) on acute stress. We conducted an Internet-based survey 2–4 wk postbombings with a nationally representative sample and representative subsamples from Boston and New York (4,675 adults). Repeated bombing-related media exposure was associated with higher acute stress than was direct exposure. Media coverage following collective traumas can diffuse acute stress widely. This unique study compares the impact of direct vs. indirect media-based community trauma exposure on acute stress responses.

Abstract

We compared the impact of media vs. direct exposure on acute stress response to collective trauma. We conducted an Internet-based survey following the Boston Marathon bombings between April 29 and May 13, 2013, with representative samples of residents from Boston (n = 846), New York City (n = 941), and the remainder of the United States (n = 2,888). Acute stress symptom scores were comparable in Boston and New York [regression coefficient (b) = 0.43; SE = 1.42; 95% confidence interval (CI), −2.36, 3.23], but lower nationwide when compared with Boston (b = −2.21; SE = 1.07; 95% CI, −4.31, −0.12). Adjusting for prebombing mental health (collected prospectively), demographics, and prior collective stress exposure, six or more daily hours of bombing-related media exposure in the week after the bombings was associated with higher acute stress than direct exposure to the bombings (continuous acute stress symptom total: media exposure b = 15.61 vs. direct exposure b = 5.69). Controlling for prospectively collected prebombing television-watching habits did not change the findings. In adjusted models, direct exposure to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Sandy Hook School shootings were both significantly associated with bombing-related acute stress; Superstorm Sandy exposure wasn't. Prior exposure to similar and/or violent events may render some individuals vulnerable to the negative effects of collective traumas. Repeatedly engaging with trauma-related media content for several hours daily shortly after collective trauma may prolong acute stress experiences and promote substantial stress-related symptomatology. Mass media may become a conduit that spreads negative consequences of community trauma beyond directly affected communities.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the GfK Government and Academic Research team of J. Michael Dennis, Debra Vanni, Sergei Rodkin, Stefan Subias, Kathleen Connolley, Mansour Fahimi, Randall Thomas, Wendy Mansfield, and Curtiss Cobb for providing access to data collected on GfK KnowledgePanelists, preparing the Web-based version of our survey, creating the data file, general guidance on GfK KnowledgePanel methodology, and for survey research and sampling expertise. Project funding was provided by US National Science Foundation Grant BCS-1342637 (to R.C.S. and E.A.H.).

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Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 111 | No. 1
January 7, 2014
PubMed: 24324161

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Submission history

Published online: December 9, 2013
Published in issue: January 7, 2014

Acknowledgments

The authors thank the GfK Government and Academic Research team of J. Michael Dennis, Debra Vanni, Sergei Rodkin, Stefan Subias, Kathleen Connolley, Mansour Fahimi, Randall Thomas, Wendy Mansfield, and Curtiss Cobb for providing access to data collected on GfK KnowledgePanelists, preparing the Web-based version of our survey, creating the data file, general guidance on GfK KnowledgePanel methodology, and for survey research and sampling expertise. Project funding was provided by US National Science Foundation Grant BCS-1342637 (to R.C.S. and E.A.H.).

Notes

*This Direct Submission article had a prearranged editor.

Authors

Affiliations

E. Alison Holman
Program in Nursing Science,
Dana Rose Garfin
Departments of bPsychology and Social Behavior and
Roxane Cohen Silver1 [email protected]
Departments of bPsychology and Social Behavior and
Medicine, and
Program in Public Health, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected].
Author contributions: E.A.H. and R.C.S. designed research; E.A.H. and R.C.S. performed research; E.A.H. and D.R.G. analyzed data; and E.A.H., D.R.G., and R.C.S. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Media’s role in broadcasting acute stress following the Boston Marathon bombings
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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