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‘Shared Distress’ of Terrorism Creates More Compassionate Society: Study

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Acts of terrorism are likely to result in a more connected, compassionate citizenry, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.

The study analyzed the Twitter messages of 62,114 French subscribers in response to the November 13th, 2015, terrorist attack on the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Researchers found that, after the attack, “a collective negative emotional response” was followed by a long-term increase in expressions of social solidarity via twitter.

“These findings suggest that it is not despite our distress that we are more united after a terrorist attack—it is precisely because of our shared distress that our bonds become stronger,” they said.

As a result, “our society adapts to face the next threat,” wrote co- authors David Garcia of the Medical University of Virginia, and Bernard Rimé, from the University of Louvain.

The researchers used a linguistic software program, which specifically searched for terms denoting sadness, anxiety, and anger, as well as for those referring to shared French values.  They also looked for words that referred to behavior that benefits society as a whole, such as caring.

What they found was that the strongest initial emotional response to the attack was anxiety, followed by sadness starting the day after.

But the second day after the Paris attack, they saw a spike in terms referring to relationships, shared values, and cooperative behavior.

Garcia and Rimé concluded that an analysis of tweets can tell only a partial story., and that the calls for unity they’ve identified could, in some cases, be accompanied by messages conveying an “increased intolerance of outsiders.”

A full copy of the study can be found here.

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