It Could Have Been Me: Vicarious Victims and Disaster-Focused Distress

Heidi A. Wayment

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


College students who had experienced no personal bereavement in the September 11 terrorist attacks completed questionnaires between 3 and 5 weeks after the attacks and 5 months later. Cross-sectional and longitudinal structural equation model (SEM) analyses revealed that general distress and disaster-focused distress are discernable reactions following a collective loss. Both types of distress were higher among women and by those reporting social strain. General distress was associated with previous stressful events and mental health issues. Perceived similarity to the victims predicted disaster-focused distress and mediated the relationship between attending to media accounts of victims and disaster-focused distress. Only the disaster-focused distress reactions of survivor guilt and grief were associated with collective helping behaviors after the attacks and, for women, these behaviors were associated with greater reductions in these distress reactions over time. Discussion focuses on the importance of examining disaster-focused distress reactions following collective loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-528
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Collective helping behavior
  • Collective loss
  • Grief
  • Perceived similarity
  • Survivor guilt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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