Mental and physical health effects of acute exposure to media images of the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War

Millions of people witnessed early, repeated television coverage of the September 11 (9/11), 2001, terrorist attacks and were subsequently exposed to graphic media images of the Iraq War. In the present study, we examined psychological- and physical-health impacts of exposure to these collective traumas. A U.S. national sample (N = 2,189) completed Web-based surveys 1 to 3 weeks after 9/11; a subsample (n = 1,322) also completed surveys at the initiation of the Iraq War. These surveys measured media exposure and acute stress responses. Posttraumatic stress symptoms related to 9/11 and physician-diagnosed health ailments were assessed annually for 3 years. Early 9/11- and Iraq War-related television exposure and frequency of exposure to war images predicted increased posttraumatic stress symptoms 2 to 3 years after 9/11. Exposure to 4 or more hr daily of early 9/11-related television and cumulative acute stress predicted increased incidence of health ailments 2 to 3 years later. These findings suggest that exposure to graphic media images may result in physical and psychological effects previously assumed to require direct trauma exposure.