Terrorist attacks and hate crimes have pervasive impacts that extend beyond the direct victims of these crimes. Due to the vast reach of social media, the sympathy, distress, fear and outrage that such crimes provoke can extend across the country. Research has found that the stress of experiencing traumatic events like terrorist attacks and natural disasters can have strong neurobiological and psychological effects on direct victims and related family members. However, there has been very little research on whether there are similar immediate and lasting effects on those people who are physically distant and unrelated, yet feel connected to, the victims. When a traumatic event is both a terrorist attack and a violent hate crime targeting members of an identifiable group, others who feel a shared identity with that group may be affected by such an event in even more profound ways. The investigator Paul Hastings (University of California, Davis) tests these hypotheses in the aftermath of a recent mass shooting event in Florida. The investigator draws from social psychology theories of identity and minority stress, and biological psychology theories of allostatic load and stress physiology to test whether the degree of shared identity with the victims of the massacre moderates the impacts on individuals geographically distant from the event. The neurobiological and psychological impacts immediately after the event are assessed as well as recovery from these effects over the following six months. By extending science's understanding of how shared identity status shapes the broader community's neurobiological processes and psychosocial adjustment following targeted terrorist attacks and hate crimes, this RAPID project will identify factors that may promote recovery from such traumatic events. This will inform efforts to design community-focused program to build resilience in relevant groups, and interventions to reduce the negative effects of catastrophic social injustices.

The investigator uses the naturally occurring event of a recent mass shooting to test key hypotheses about the impact of shared identity status -- specifically, ethnic and sexual identity -- on response to geographically distant events. The terrorist attack and hate crime that occurred on Latin night at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June 2016 is the largest mass-shooting massacre in modern U.S. history. The targets and direct victims of this massacre were predominantly young adult members of a multiple-minority group: the LGBTQ Latino/a community. Thus, the current research involves a sample of LGBTQ Latino/a, plus comparison samples of straight Latino/a, LGBTQ White, and straight White young adults from the metropolitan area of a city in northern California that is of similar size to Orlando. These groups systematically vary in either sharing or not sharing both the sexual identity and ethnic/racial identity characteristics of the majority of the victims of the Orlando massacre. Within two months of the massacre, participants complete questionnaires to assess identity relevant variables, experiences of stressful life events and of victimization, and measures of psychological well-being and mental health. Over two consecutive days, participants then provide multiple saliva samples, and complete additional questionnaire measures. The saliva samples will be used to assess levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, and two inflammatory cytokines, interleukin-6 and c-reactive protein, to measure activity of the immunological system. These measures are repeated six months later.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Steven J. Breckler
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University of California Davis
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