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The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have dramatically hardened the hearts of a majority of Americans, making us more hawkish about war and more zealous about punishing criminals, a researcher meeting in Atlanta said.
"Our work suggests these attitudes changed after Sept. 11 and may not change back for many years," said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University and one of several researchers at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society who presented studies on the impact of Sept. 11. "People are now more willing to go to war, and to favor harsher treatment for people convicted of crimes."
His study involved hundreds of people who were questioned a year before the attacks on attitudes toward war and criminal punishment. On a 5-point scale, the average response was 2.8. Ten days after the terrorist strike, the same people were questioned, and the average jumped to 3.1, "which is statistically significant," he said.
"There's been an increase in favorable attitudes toward violence," he said in an interview at the conference, which ended Sunday. "It's probably due to news coverage, how the attacks were framed."
Questioned late last year, another group also seemed more gung-ho about war and strongly in favor of harsh punishment for criminals.
"If you think of Sept. 11 in terms of criminal acts, it makes sense you'd harden attitudes toward criminals," he said. "If you think then about war, then that incident would make people less opposed."
The attitudes may explain why "there's been very little public debate against the war in Iraq and very few protests. Sept. 11 has encouraged the notion that Washington is right and that might makes right."
In another study, psychologist Mark O'Dekirk of Meredith College found that Americans' memories of Sept. 11 apparently are becoming more vivid as time goes by.
Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution