Americans should watch in moderation the plethora of programs television networks plan to air leading up to the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, says a West Virginia University psychologist.
Joseph Scotti, a professor in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, said studies he conducted following the attacks imply that viewing too many of the networks9-11 anniversary broadcasts could cause people to re-experience stress-related symptoms.
“I wouldnt say that people need to avoid it, but they should watch in moderation,”said Scotti, director of undergraduate training in the psychology department.”They should also talk and share personal recollections about the attacks. Just dont dwell on them.”
Scotti researches and counsels victims of posttraumatic stress disorder, a psychiatric condition that can arise after experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events. His clients include military veterans and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Symptoms of the disorder include intrusive thoughts and images of the traumatic event, sleeplessness, decreased interest in activities and increased anxiety; these symptoms can persist over a prolonged period.
Specific to 9-11, Scotti surveyed mostly freshman students in WVU s Psychology 101 course in October and December to determine how they were coping after the attacks and how much time they spent watching televised coverage of the story.
About 850 of the 1,400 students responded to the first survey. Most of the students are from West Virginia, with the next largest group coming from areas in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
About 33 percent of the respondents met criteria for acute stress disorder, and 19 percent showed symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, Scotti said.
The percentage of students exhibiting acute stress disorder symptoms was phenomenal, he said, noting that 5-15 percent is what psychologists normally expect. Acute stress disorder has similar symptoms as posttraumatic stress disorder but occurs over a shorter length of time.
Students showing signs of acute or posttraumatic stress disorder also happened to watch the most televised coverage surrounding the events and were the most distressed when doing so, Scotti added. Also, 51 percent of the respondents knew someone from the areas attacked, 5 percent knew someone who was missing for a while and 7 percent knew someone injured or killed.
The December study, which surveyed 350 students, showed lower percentages of students exhibiting stress disorder symptoms and watching television news, he said.
Scotti, who is on the editorial board of the Journal of Traumatic Stress , said his studiesresults coincided with those of colleagues around the nation.
“My concern would be, based on this data, that people could traumatize themselves by watching these types of programs again as the one-year anniversary nears,”he said.
Scotti has been a member of WVU s psychology faculty since 1990 and is the Eberly Family Professor of Outstanding Public Service. He earned his doctorate from State University of New York at Binghamton.