Conservative shift among high-exposure survivors of the september 11th terrorist attacks

George A. Bonanno, John T. Jost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Potentially traumatic events evoke a wide range of responses and outcomes. From a motivated social cognitive approach to ideology, system-threatening events such as 9/11 should increase psychological needs to manage uncertainty and threat and, therefore, the appeal of politically conservative opinions. We investigated "conservative shift" among high-exposure survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (n = 45) and its relationship to coping and adjustment. Results indicated that Democrats and Independents (as well as Republicans) were more likely to shift toward conservatism and away from liberalism following 9/11. Despite its prevalence, we found relatively little evidence that embracing conservatism was related to improved well-being as measured either in terms of survivors' mental health symptoms or friends-relatives' ratings of their psychological adjustment. On the contrary, political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and conservative shift were generally associated with the following: chronically elevated levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, desire for revenge and militarism, cynicism, and decreased use of humor. Conservative shift was also associated with increased religiosity, patriotism, and the perception that the events of 9/11 created new interests and opportunities, suggesting that it may contain some adaptive (as well as maladaptive) features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-323
Number of pages13
JournalBasic and Applied Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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