Topic: Disasters, terror and stress management

Who can I trust? Extended fear during and after the Utøya terrorist attack

Filkukova, P., Hafstad, G. S., & Jensen, T. K. (2016). Who can I trust? Extended fear during and after the Utøya terrorist attack. Psychological Trauma, 8(4), 512-519. doi:10.1037/tra0000141

The aim of the study was to investigate specific peritraumatic reactions among adolescent and young adult survivors of the 2011 terrorist attack on Utøya Island, Norway. The authors focused specifically on a phenomenon that has so far not been thoroughly investigated: fear of nondangerous stimuli (“extended fear”) during and immediately after the traumatic event.

Method: In total, 325 survivors of the shooting on Utøya Island were interviewed 4–5 months after the attack and provided a free narrative of the event. Posttraumatic stress symptoms were assessed using the UCLA PTSD Reaction Index; depression and anxiety were assessed using HSCL-8. For the purpose of the current study, the authors chose participants who were under the age of 26 at the time of the terrorist attack (M = 18.4 years), which constituted the vast majority of the total sample (93%).

Results: The authors found that 54% of the sample felt threatened during and immediately after the attack, not only by the perpetrator himself, but by other people as well; in most cases by people who came to help them (medical personnel, policemen, volunteers). The participants who mentioned experiencing extended fear in their trauma narratives had significantly higher scores of posttraumatic stress symptoms, anxiety, and depression 5 months after the attack than participants who did not peritraumatically experience extended fear.

Conclusions: Early detection of extended fear can help in identifying individuals who will later develop symptomatology. In addition, knowledge of the phenomenon could help policemen and medical personnel understand survivors’ seemingly irrational reactions.

The Researchers

  • Hafstad, Gertrud Sofie

    Hafstad, Gertrud Sofie

    Researcher II / dr. psychol.

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  • Jensen, Tine

    Jensen, Tine

    Researcher/ Associate professor, University of Osl / Ph.D. Psychology

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