Terrorism sparks heartfelt aftermath

Although terror-attack survivors often rebound emotionally, their bodies stay on heightened alert long after such traumas, a new investigation suggests.

Psychiatrist Phebe M. Tucker of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City examined 60 people who had been directly exposed to the 1995 Oklahoma City bomb blast and 60 other people who lived near the bombing site but didn’t witness the blast or have friends or relatives killed in the incident.

Despite exhibiting relatively good emotional health in interviews conducted 7 years after the explosion, survivors displayed substantially higher heart rates and blood pressures while discussing the bombing than members of the comparison group did, Tucker and her coworkers say in the February American Journal of Psychiatry.

The two groups of participants reported similarly low levels of depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety response to trauma, affected 16 survivors and 1 comparison individual.

Survivors showed biological sensitivity to reminders of the bombing, regardless of whether they exhibited PTSD, the researchers say. They suspect that this reaction initially fosters resilience by readying a person to survive future traumas.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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