Geopolitical World & Stress

In the last presidential election, I remember going to sleep while Trump was in the lead for electoral college votes – hoping that when I woke up, Clinton somehow came away with the victory. I woke up in disbelief that a racist and politically uneducated individual could represent the country I was probably to be a part of. I was frustrated and didn’t know how to go about my day knowing this was real. Majumder et al. (2017) emphasizes that I wasn’t the only person to feel this away as both Democrats and voters that were concerned about Trump’s moral values and presidential capabilities reported having more stress and anxiety after the election. However, not too long ago some people felt a similar way when Obama became president in 2008. It represented Republican v. Democrat, Black v. White, and paving a new history v. maintaining a White history. Trawalter et al. (2011) showed that after the 2008 election, Republicans, conservatives, and individuals high in social dominance orientation exhibited physiological responses the day of and days after the presidential election. While Republicans showed increased levels of cortisol and decreased levels of testosterone, different patterns were shown for individuals high in social dominance orientation. These individuals showed extremely higher levels (compared to low SDO participants) in cortisol and testosterone. Researchers discussed how higher levels of testosterone may be linked with willingness to fight back to regain dominance. Real life examples have showed this to be true with Tea party members protesting Obama for “moving the USA towards socialism” quickly after his election.

Revisiting Majumder et al. (2017) on the 2016 presidential election, much of their results are open for debate. Unlike timelines like Trawalter et al. (2011) where participants completed a survey the week prior and of the election, Majumder et al. (2017) had participants complete a survey two weeks before and two months after the election day. In addition, their “post-election” survey was on the day of the presidential inauguration – which could be a potential confound on people’s anxiety and perceptions of the election and president. Most importantly, this experiment used two separate samples for the pre-and-post survey. That being said, their experiment offered great insight on how elections can lead to increase stress and anxiety simply on how you perceive the presidential-elect and not solely based on your political affiliation. One of the key concerns that predicted increased stress and anxiety was international policy. This is important because with frequent terrorist attacks across multiple countries, citizens of a nation need to trust that their leader will keep their country safe.

Terrorist attacks have shown to have severe mental and physical health consequences for both individuals with direct and indirect exposure. In general, Garfin and Holman (2016) discuss how terrorist attacks can increase risk of PTSD, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, incidences of schizophrenia, and anxiety, stress, and fear. However, they also mention that there are some positive outcomes from these horrific events. People were more likely to appreciate their life, change priorities, have more meaningful personal relationships, richer spiritual life, and increased resilience (Garfin & Holman, 2016). In Strand et al. (2016) researchers focus on a specific terrorist attack that occurred in Norway in 2011. It was noted that one in four Norwegians personally knew someone who was affected by either the bombings or shootings. Although Strand et al. (2016) is one of the first articles to show the effects of a terrorist attack on a population’s health, I am not convinced by their data. Their analyses showed that days and weeks after the event there was an increase in hospitalizations for: schizophrenia and psychosis, suicide attempts, heart attacks, and births. However, their results were relatively low on statistical power and had no statistical significant findings. These results show descriptive analyses (percentage change) rather than significant differences in hospitalization/incident ratios from the predefined time windows and prior years. In addition, there was no measurement for stress. Most importantly, their data showed low clinical events after the terrorist attack. While I do believe that terrorist attacks may have severe affects on mental and physical health I do not believe that the researchers were able to provide concrete evidence on the effects of this terrorist attack. The fact that there were low clinical events should speak to the low effect from this incident.

2 thoughts on “Geopolitical World & Stress

  1. It’s really interesting that you make the connection between needing to trust the nation’s leader during such a vulnerable time when terrorist attacks are so frequent. I wonder if individuals who feel that they are not represented by Trump already have a heightened level of stress on a daily basis, and may even feel like strangers in their own home nation. It would be interesting to think about whether these individuals are even more fearful of terrorist attacks, or experience even more stress as a result of them, because they are already experiencing vulnerability from the election results. For immigrants, it’s possible that they even already feel terrorized in the United States, as there have been raids and attacks for deportation. There’s definitely a lot of food for thought here, and great job making an important connection!

  2. I enjoyed your post examining the literature on stress and presidential elections. You brought up an interesting point that the two articles examining stress and anxiety levels in anticipation of and in response to the 2008 and 2016 elections took measurements at very different time points. It is interesting that Majumder and colleagues (2017) measured post-election stress on inauguration day, as I agree that this seems like it could be a discrete, stress eliciting event for individuals who did not vote for the president elect, regardless of whether we measure this during this past election, or years prior. I think that if the goal was to measure general stress related to the election, taking measurement on the day of the election and day of the inauguration might suffice. However, if the goal is to measure anticipation and post-election related stress than measurements should be taken in the days leading up to an following the election, excluding the election itself and the inauguration.

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