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Identification With Terrorist Attack Victims: Association With Television Viewing and Prior Life Threat

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 September 2017

Holly B. Herberman Mash*
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
Carol S. Fullerton
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
K. Nikki Benevides
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
Robert J. Ursano
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
Correspondence and reprint requests to Holly B. Herberman Mash, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814 (e-mail:



A series of sniper attacks in the Washington, DC, area left 10 people dead and 3 wounded. We developed and tested a model that examined the unique and interdependent relationships of sniper-related television viewing, prior life-threatening events, and parental status to identification with attack victims.


Participants were 1238 residents of the DC area (aged 18-90 years, mean=41.7 years; 51% female; 68% white) who completed an online survey that assessed identification with sniper attack victims, amount of television viewing, and prior life-threatening events. Identification was measured by using a previously developed scale that assessed to what extent participants identified victims as similar to themselves, a friend, or a family member.


The relationship of television viewing to identification was examined by using multivariate linear regression analyses. In univariate analyses, female gender, having children, higher levels of television viewing, and past life-threatening events were independently related to greater identification. After adjustment for demographics and life-threatening events, sniper-related television viewing continued to be associated with identification (B=0.61, P≤0.001, ∆R2=0.07). Examination of the interactions of television viewing by parental status and television viewing by life-threatening event revealed significant relationships.


Attention to events preceding and during a terrorist event could help in the recognition of those at particular risk for increased identification with attack victims. These findings also have implications for recommendations for media exposure during an event. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2018; 12: 337–344)

Original Research
Copyright © Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health, Inc. 2017 

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