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Just Watching Violent Events Unfold Online Causes Trauma

Researchers have found watching events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks or a school shooting unfold over social media may have caused some trauma to viewers. They report some even experience PTSD symptoms.

The Internet connects us to the issues of the world in a way never thought possible in previous decades. Everyone is equipped with a camera and their own outlet to broadcast their experiences. However, a recent study has shown that some of the more violent news content may be connecting us in an unintended way, causing some watchers to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Pam Ramsden, who led the study, explained the basis of her team’s research in a press release:

“Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives. In this study, we wanted to see if people would experience longer-lasting effects such as stress and anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorders from viewing these images.”

Ramsden notes that other studies “have documented the negative psychological reactions following indirect exposure to traumatized people called vicarious traumatization.” Usually, psychologists, spiritual leaders, and support groups are at risk — those who are providing a shoulder and a sympathetic ear to the victim. But Ramsden is finding that people watching as violent events unfold over the news or social media are at risk.

The study consisted of 189 participants with an almost even male-female split. The participants completed a clinical assessment for PTSD, a personality test, and a vicarious trauma test. They were asked questions about various violent news events, including school shootings, 9/11 terrorist attacks, and suicide bombings.

The researchers found that 22 percent of participants were affected by at least one of these events, even though none had experienced previous trauma or had been present during the attacks. However, they had all watched the event unfold over the news and through social media.

Ramsden reported that the results were “quite worrying,” adding “that nearly a quarter of those who viewed the images scored high on clinical measures of PTSD.”

She also reported that her team noted that “outgoing, extroverted personalities” showed an increased risk of being influenced by the events.

She concluded in the press release:

“With increased access to social media and the Internet via tablets and smartphones, we need to ensure that people are aware of the risks of viewing these images and that appropriate support is available for those who need it.”

Read more at Science Daily.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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