Post-traumatic stress symptoms following sniper attacks: Effects of television viewing and identification with victims


  • Holly B. Herberman Mash, PhD
  • Carol S. Fullerton, PhD
  • Robert J. Ursano, MD



psychological trauma, stress disorders, post-traumatic, terrorism, TV viewing, identification


Objective: A series of sniper attacks in the Washington, DC, area left 10 people dead and three wounded. The authors examined the relationship of sniper-related television (TV) viewing, identification with victims, and peritraumatic dissociation to posttraumatic stress symptoms.

Methods: Participants were 1,238 DC residents (ages 18-90, M = 41.7; 51 percent female; 68 percent White) who completed an online survey including items assessing identification, amount of TV, peritraumatic dissociation, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Identification was measured by assessing to what extent participants identified victims as similar to themselves, a friend, or a family member. Peritraumatic dissociation and post-traumatic stress symptoms were assessed with the Peritraumatic Dissociative Experiences Questionnaire and Impact of Event Scale-Revised. Relationships of TV viewing, identification, and peritraumatic dissociation to post-traumatic stress symptoms were examined by univariable and multivariable regressions and variable interactions.

Results: Female gender and higher levels of TV viewing, identification, and peritraumatic dissociation were each related to greater post-traumatic stress symptoms. After adjusting for gender and the predictor variables, higher TV viewing was associated with posttraumatic stress symptoms (B = 0.72, p < 0.01, ΔR2 = 0.05). Participants with greater identification (B = 0.85, p < 0.001, ΔR2 = 0.08) and peritraumatic dissociation (B = 1.58, p < 0.001, ΔR2 = 0.39) reported more post-traumatic stress symptoms. Among those with both high (B = 1.19, p < 0.001) and low TV viewing, identification was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms. Among those reporting low TV viewing, this association was greater for those who experienced more peritraumatic dissociation (B = −0.09, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Trauma-related TV viewing, which may stimulate identification and peritraumatic dissociation, is an important consideration in understanding development of post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Author Biographies

Holly B. Herberman Mash, PhD

Research Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland

Carol S. Fullerton, PhD

Research Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland

Robert J. Ursano, MD

Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland


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How to Cite

Mash, PhD, H. B. H., C. S. Fullerton, PhD, and R. J. Ursano, MD. “Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms Following Sniper Attacks: Effects of Television Viewing and Identification With Victims”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 29-36, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2018.0285.