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UCI-led study deepens understanding of the effects of media exposure to collective trauma

October 11, 2019
UCI-led study deepens understanding of the effects of media exposure to collective trauma
“Media-based exposure to collective trauma is more complex than currently understood,” says lead author E. Allison Holman, associate professor of nursing. “It’s not just how much one engages – what one sees may matter as well.”

According to a new UCI-led study, it’s not just how much media exposure an individual has to collective trauma but also the graphic quality of what one sees that may make a person more vulnerable to trauma-related mental and physical health problems over time. The team analyzed the results from more than 3,000 anonymous online surveys taken two to four weeks after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and again six months later. Published online in the current issue of the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the study found that greater frequency of viewing bloody images in the week following the bombings was associated with more acute stress, post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues half a year later. “Exposures to collective traumas are more complex than currently conceptualized,” said lead author E. Alison Holman, associate professor of nursing. “Our findings offer some of the first evidence linking exposure to graphic images in media with responses to a real-world collective trauma in a nationally representative sample and, if corroborated, could inform decision-making in large mass media outlets.” Also contributing to the study were Dana Rose Garfin, an adjunct faculty member in UCI’s Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing; Roxane Cohen Silver, UCI professor of psychological science; and Pauline Lubens, a policy analyst at Swords to Plowshares’ Institute for Veteran Policy.