University of California in Irvine (UCI) scientists uncovered in a new study that people exposed to images of collective traumas – such as terrorist attacks, floods, landslides, earthquakes and so on – tend to experience long-lasting health effects.
In other words, exposure to traumatic events and images, even if distant, can influence health. This held true for a representative sample of the US population, which was made to watch images of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq on a computer screen.
UCI experts found that participants tended to experience an increase in physical and psychological ailments after they watched the images, even if they were not affected by the events directly. This link is very interesting, and definitely worth further investigations, the research group believes.
One of the major implications of the new study is that watching extensive TV coverage of negative events can have significant repercussions on public health, in terms of both physical and psychological damage. Such a link was never hinted at before.
With their new series of experiments, the UCI researchers were able to demonstrate that collective traumas can have lingering effects, which go beyond feeling sad or empathic for direct victims.
“I would not advocate restricting nor censoring war images for the psychological well-being of the public. Instead, I think it’s important for people to be aware that there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic images of horror,” scientist Roxane Cohen Silver explains.
She holds an appointment as a professor of psychology and social behavior, medicine, and public health, at UCI. She is also the author of a new study detailing the findings, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Association for Psychological Science's journal Psychological Science.
The experiments demonstrated that nearly 12 percent of the 1,322-participant test group reported high levels of acute stress related to the 9/11 attacks. A smaller number, around 7 percent, reported increased acute stress related to the war in Iraq.
“The results suggest that exposure to graphic media images may be an important mechanism through which the impact of collective trauma is dispersed widely,” Silver goes on to says.
“Our findings are both relevant and timely as vivid images reach larger audiences than ever before through YouTube, social media and smartphones,” the study author concludes.