Nav: Home

Missile strike false alarm most stressful for less anxious Hawaiians, study finds

July 25, 2019

WASHINGTON -- After learning that a warning of a missile headed to Hawaii was a false alarm, the most anxious local Twitter users calmed down more quickly than less anxious users, according to a study of tweets before, during and after the event, published by the American Psychological Association.

"Can a false alarm of an impending disaster itself be a form of trauma? Our results suggest that the experience may have a lingering impact on some individuals well after the threat is dispelled," said Nickolas Jones, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine, and lead author of the study published in the journal American Psychologist. "While those who before the alert had exhibited the least anxiety took the longest to stabilize, at approximately 41 hours, and the medium-anxiety group took 23 hours, the individuals who had exhibited the greatest anxiety before the alert stabilized almost immediately."

In January 2018, residents of Hawaii received an alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency over radio, television and smartphones warning that a ballistic missile was headed toward the state, that people should seek shelter and that the alert was "NOT A DRILL." A second message was transmitted 38 minutes later stating that there was no missile threat and that the original message had been a false alarm.

To better understand the psychological effects of event on the population, Jones and his colleague Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, also of the University of California, Irvine, collected more than 1.2 million posts on Twitter from more than 14,000 users who followed local Twitter accounts across the state of Hawaii from six weeks before to 18 days after the event. Tweets were scanned for 114 words associated with anxiety (e.g., afraid, scared, worried). Each tweet that contained an anxiety-associated word was given a score of one and all others scored zero. The researchers then grouped users based on their tweets prior to the false alarm as low, medium or high anxiety.

Anxiety expressed on Twitter rose approximately 3.4% every 15 minutes during the false alarm and decreased after the all clear. What the researchers found interesting was how long it took anxiety levels to stabilize in the various groups after the event and what those new baseline levels were.

While the group that exhibited low anxiety prior to the alert showed a new baseline anxiety level 2.5% higher after the event, the group who exhibited high anxiety prior to the alert had a baseline that was 10.5% lower afterward.

"We were surprised about our findings for the high prealert anxiety group," said Silver. "The literature suggests that people who experience negative psychological states, like anxiety, before a large-scale trauma, are at an increased risk for negative psychological consequences afterwards. However, those individuals who before the alert generally expressed much more anxiety on a daily basis than anyone else in the sample seem to have benefited from the false missile alert instead."

Silver believes the decrease in anxiety levels for the high-anxiety group may have been because the threat of imminent death put their day-to-day stressors into perspective.

"Anxious individuals may have more to appreciate when they experience a near miss and thus express less anxiety on social media after having 'survived' what would have undoubtedly been construed as a deadly situation," she said.

"Free and open access to public Twitter data, coupled with Hawaii's false missile alert, provided us with an opportunity to study, for the first time, how several thousand people responded psychologically to the threat of an inescapable, impending tragedy," said Jones. "Although it is fortunate we were able to study this phenomenon without loss of life, we show that, for many users, the anxiety elicited by this false alarm lingered well beyond the assurance that the threat was not real, which may have health consequences over time for some individuals. Our findings also highlight how important it is for emergency management agencies to communicate with the public they serve about potential threats and mishaps in emergency communications."
-end-
Article: "This Is Not a Drill: Anxiety on Twitter Following the 2018 Hawaii False Missile Alert," by Nickolas M. Jones, PhD, and Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, University of California, Irvine. American Psychologist, published online July 25, 2019.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-amp0000495.pdf.

Contact: Roxane Cohen Silver can be contacted via email at rsilver@uci.edu or by phone at 949-824-9055.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 118,400 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

http://www.apa.org

American Psychological Association

Related Twitter Articles:

New algorithm can distinguish cyberbullies from normal Twitter users with 90% accuracy
A team of researchers, including faculty at Binghamton University, have developed machine learning algorithms which can successfully identify bullies and aggressors on Twitter with 90 percent accuracy.
BU researchers use Twitter and AI to see who is hitting the gym
A new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers and published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine used machine learning to find and comb through exercise-related tweets from across the United States, unpacking regional and gender differences in exercise types and intensity levels.
New application can detect Twitter bots in any language
Thanks to fruitful collaboration between language scholars and machine learning specialists, a new application developed by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and Linnaeus University in Sweden can detect Twitter bots independent of the language used.
The whisper room: Moderates on Twitter are losing their voice
MU researcher finds that partisan users form highly partisan social networks on Twitter, moderate users -- or those less politically engaged -- continue to avoid politics, potentially creating an important void on social media.
Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters
University of Kansas journalism researchers showed real tweets about the NFL anthem protests to a group of millennials.
In disasters, Twitter influencers get out-tweeted
A first-of-its-kind study on Twitter use during 5 of the costliest US natural disasters offers potentially life-saving insights.
Study: On Facebook and Twitter your privacy is at risk -- even if you don't have an account
New research shows that on social media, like Facebook, privacy can be at risk, even if a person doesn't have an account.
Poll: Majority of millennials do not like Trump, Twitter
A new national poll of millennials looks at opinions on President Trump, social media, key issues and potential 2020 presidential candidates.
To monitor 'social jet lag,' scientists look to Twitter
Social jet lag -- a syndrome related to the mismatch between the body's internal clock and the realities of our daily schedules -- has been tied to obesity and other health problems.
BU: Twitter users spreading sexual violence prevention strategies
In the wake of #MeToo, the hashtag #HowIWillChange asked men to come forward on Twitter to discuss ways in which they would change their own behavior to prevent sexual violence and mitigate harm for victims.
More Twitter News and Twitter Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.