September 2, 2010
Text Messages Reveal Emotional Timeline Of Sept 11, 2001
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have been called the defining moment of our time. Thousands of people died and the attacks had huge individual and collective consequences, including two wars. But less is known about the immediate emotional reactions to the attacks. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers analyzed text messages sent on September 11, 2001 for emotional words. They found spiking anxiety and steadily increasing anger through that fateful day.
The researchers took advantage of transcripts of more than 500,000 text messages sent to pagers on the day of the attacks. The transcripts were published anonymously last year on WikiLeaks. Psychological scientists Mitja D. Back, Albrecht C.P. Kfner, and Boris Egloff of the University of Mainz in Germany used software for automatic text analysis to look for words that relate to sadness (words such as crying and grief), anxiety (worried, fearful), and anger (hate, annoyed). They also noted when various events happened that day, such as the plane crashes, President George W. Bush's two speeches, and the time when American Airlines reported the loss of two airplanes.
The fact that anger dominated in people's immediate reactions may help explain some of the consequences of the attacks. Anger is known to make people want vengeance; this could explain the reports of acts of discrimination against Muslims in the days after the attacks, as well as the broader societal response, the researchers speculate.
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