Emotion, Presidential Communication, and Traumatic News: Processing the World Trade Center Attacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


During traumatic national events, attention to the news and scrutiny of leader communication becomes particularly acute. The terrorist actions of September 11,2001, and ensuing U.S. response focused public attention on the president to an extent unknown before the attacks. This article reports on an experimental study of audience responses to televised news coverage of the World Trade Center attacks. As the coverage of the attacks and compelling images featured on television illustrate, news can be regarded as a type of survival-relevant information with immediate consequences for viewers. Within this framework, the study examines how, in the aftermath and ongoing processing of this traumatic event, a political leader's televised behavior evokes emotional and evaluative responses in viewers. For the experiment, adult and student participants were shown a series of news reports featuring negative compelling images of the attacks followed by close-up reactions and statements by President Bush. The news images varied in their intensity, while the presidential reactions varied in their potency. Results indicate that varying degrees of image intensity and communicator potency significantly influenced emotional responses to the crisis and viewer feelings of self-control. When paired with low-intensity images of traumatic news, potent presidential communication had the effect of allaying viewer anxiety; in contrast, potent appearances appeared to lose this influence when shown in conjunction with high-intensity images.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-96
Number of pages21
JournalHarvard International Journal of Press/Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Emotional responses
  • Presidential communication
  • September 11
  • Terrorism
  • Traumatic news
  • World Trade Center attacks


Dive into the research topics of 'Emotion, Presidential Communication, and Traumatic News: Processing the World Trade Center Attacks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this