Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

In the face of trauma, distance helps people find clarity

Date:
August 22, 2013
Source:
University of Texas at Austin
Summary:
In the wake of a negative event, people are more likely to find clarity by considering the larger picture.

In the wake of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the devastating explosion in the Texas town of West, people are often left asking, "Why did this happen?"

According to new research from The University of Texas at Austin, the best way to make sense of tragedy is to turn away from detailed reports in the news and social media and adopt a more simplified understanding of the event.

The study, published online in Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows that in the wake of a negative event, people are more likely to find clarity by considering the larger picture. Such a firm understanding helps to diffuse negative emotions and the feeling of a lack of control, says Jae-Eun Namkoong, marketing graduate student in Red McCombs School of Business and lead author of the study.

"Certainty about what causes tragic events not only helps people feel better, but also gives them a sense of direction for action," Namkoong says. "People launching petitions for government actions, constituents voting for policies, or even consumers boycotting against products that malfunction are all motivated by their certainty of the causes behind negative events."

As part of the study, the researchers presented 196 participants with information about the Sandy Hook shooting and altered their sense of time by framing the incident around different reference points. For example, the shooting appears to be much more recent when compared with the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001. But in comparison with a similar incident that occurred just two weeks prior, the Sandy Hook shooting seems much farther away.

According to the results, the participants who perceived the shooting as farther away in time were more confident in their understanding about why the event happened.

"As time passes, people naturally gain more certainty about events," says Marlone Henderson, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study. "If you're trying to give yourself a feeling a meaning, you can distance yourself from the incident with time and space. And this also applies to personal problems, such as troubles at work, a broken appliance, or even a bad breakup."

In another experiment, the researchers presented 202 participants with a list of potential causes of the Sandy Hook shooting that were frequently mentioned in the media and public discourse (e.g., suspect's poor social support, weak security in elementary schools, shooter's personality disorder, loose gun control). They were then asked to assign a percentage value to each cause.

The results: Those who perceived the shooting as a distant memory were likely to attribute the event to one or two possible causes. However, the participants who perceived the incident as much closer in time associated the causes to a multitude of factors.

The results from the study have important implications for mental health professionals, as well as for the media, Henderson says.

"It's in the media's interest to keep coming up with new reasons because these things are novel and exciting," Henderson says. "But reporters could actually help bring people comfort by incorporating a sense of distance in their reports."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Texas at Austin. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J.-E. Namkoong, M. D. Henderson. It's Simple and I Know It!: Abstract Construals Reduce Causal Uncertainty. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/1948550613499240

Cite This Page:

University of Texas at Austin. "In the face of trauma, distance helps people find clarity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822122533.htm>.
University of Texas at Austin. (2013, August 22). In the face of trauma, distance helps people find clarity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822122533.htm
University of Texas at Austin. "In the face of trauma, distance helps people find clarity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822122533.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins