According to a study that will be published in Psychological Science, catastrophic events, for example, natural disasters, severe stock market dips, or terrorist attacks often happen more than once; twice, to be specific. Researchers say that the second event can cause just as much harm as the first, because it is usually due to our actions in response to the first event.

The year after the horrific September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, around 1,600 more traffic deaths were prevalent than experts anticipated. According to the report, this may be partly due to fear of flying because of the attacks, which lead more people to drive than to fly. This difference in behavior, due to fear of flying was probably the main cause for the extra fatalities by driving.

Wolfgang Gaissmair and Gerd Gigerenzer, of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, note that changes in driving habits after the attacks of September 11th were significantly different throughout the United States, and were not only prevalent in states close to New York, where the attacks occurred.

The experts believe that driving opportunity may have also played a part in the changes of driving behavior. Although fear motivates people to change their behavior, driving is the available method for changing the behavior in order to avoid their fear.

For their trial, Gaissmair and Gigerenzer analyzed data regarding how many miles were driven and how many fatalities occurred on the road from all 50 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia. In addition, they collected data of driving opportunity and fear. They kept the closeness of New York City in mind to determine the exact prevalence of fear after 9/11, because prior studies have shown that proximity to NYC was associated with high levels of stress after the terrorist attacks.

To determine the driving opportunity measurements, the authors found the length of large highways from each state in the National Highway System and divided it by the number of people living in that state. They also gathered data on how many cars were registered by each person.

Their findings revealed that more people did in fact drive after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Every state possessed an increase in miles driven each month by 27.2 for the 3 months after the attacks. These numbers were much higher than the data recorded during the same 3 months, but for 5 years prior to the attacks.

Ironically, people closest to NYC only seemed to drive a small amount more than before the attacks. However, miles driven were increased, but because of greater driving opportunity.

The authors note that the most important data they gathered was that more driving meant more deaths on the road, which indicates that fear can actually motivate people to add more dangerous behavior to their routines.

Gaissmaier concluded:

"To be able to foresee where the secondary effects of catastrophic events could have fatal consequences, we need to look at the environmental structures that allow fear to actually manifest in dangerous behaviors."

Written by Christine Kearney