Can Societies Experience Post-Traumatic Growth after a Terror Attack? The Influence of Terror Attacks on Political, Institutional, and Social Trust in European Countries


  • Bertjan Doosje University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Jaap van der Veen University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Loes Klaver University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands



Research shows that people are less likely to have mental health problems after a disaster, if they feel that they have learned from it and grown as a person. This phenomenon that a traumatic experience can have positive consequences is called “posttraumatic growth.” In the current study, we investigate whether inhabitants of countries can also experience post-traumatic growth after a large-scale traumatic experience, namely a terror attack. We examined data from the European Social Survey with 75,805 participants for thirteen European countries at one moment before a terror attack and two after it. If inhabitants of these countries experienced post-traumatic growth in terms of government, then we would expect their political and institutional trust to increase after a terror attack. In terms of post-traumatic growth of community, we expected social trust to increase. Our results suggest that, overall, post-traumatic growth does not occur. Specifically, political trust does not change significantly after a terror attack; institutional trust decreases directly after, only to increase again later. In terms of community, social trust remains largely unaffected after a terror attack. Interestingly, this overall pattern does not occur in all individual countries: in-depth analyses indicate a pattern in line with post-traumatic growth for specific countries. We discuss potential expla - nations.


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