Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms following media exposure to tragic events: impact of 9/11 on children at risk for anxiety disorders

J Anxiety Disord. 2007;21(7):888-902. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.10.008. Epub 2007 Jan 10.


With the extensive media coverage on September 11, 2001, adults and children indirectly witnessed the terrorist attacks leading to the deaths of almost 3,000 people. An ongoing longitudinal study provided the opportunity to examine pre-event characteristics and the impact of this media exposure. We assessed symptoms of PTSD in 166 children and 84 mothers who had no direct exposure to the 9/11 attacks. The sample included children who had parents with or without anxiety and mood disorders, and who had been assessed for the presence or absence of temperamental behavioral inhibition (BI). We found a 5.4 percent rate of symptomatic PTSD in response to 9/11 in children and 1.2 percent in their mothers. Children's identification with victims of the attack, and for younger children, the amount of television viewing predicted increased risk of PTSD symptoms. Parental depression was associated with higher symptoms, and pre-event levels of family support was associated with a lower risk for PTSD symptoms. BI in children was also linked to lower rates of PTSD symptoms, suggesting that a cautious and fearful approach to novelty may offer protection against exposure to media-based traumatic images. Media viewing of tragic events is sufficient to produce PTSD symptoms in vulnerable populations such as children. Given the links between PTSD symptoms and viewing habits, parental monitoring of media exposure may be important for younger children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Boston
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / genetics
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Expressed Emotion
  • Family Conflict / psychology
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / psychology
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / genetics
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Television*
  • Temperament