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Quake's psychological reverberations.

Short-lived symptoms of dissociation also appear in many healthy individuals during the days following extreme distress or physical risk, report Etzel Cardena and David Spiegel of Stanford University.

Within a week of the October 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area, Cardena and Spiegel surveyed 52 psychology graduate students and 49 medical students living just north of the quake's epicenter. During that time, aftershocks continued to rumble through the area. Nearly half of the students reported a sense of detachment from their surroundings, a narrowing of attention, a sense of time expansion, and memory disturbances. One quarter of the sample described sensations of the self detaching from the body, resembling out-of-body sensations reported by people who have undergone neardeath experiences, Cardena says. Many also reported considerable anxiety. But when contacted four months later, participants offered few reports of dissociation or anxiety.

The findings confirm previous observations of trauma survivors, says Martin Roth of Cambridge University in England. "Hypervigilance and dissociation constitute built-in cerebral responses fro survival in the face of danger," he asserts. The perception of time slowing down decreases the trauma victim's sense of urgency, and detachment from self and surroundings provides comfort by creating the illusion that "it's all a dream," he says.
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Title Annotation:October 1989 San Francisco Bay Area earthquake produced symptoms of dissociation
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:May 25, 1991
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