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Are we acting differently since 9/11?

Harvard survey shows behavior has not changed much

SHARE Are we acting differently since 9/11?

BOSTON — From the offices of the local United Way, Debra Shapiro has watched Bostonians change their attitudes since Sept. 11 — but not necessarily their behavior.

"People are more aware they should be doing things that they should be reaching out, getting involved, but I'm not really sure everyone is acting on it," said Shapiro, a volunteer coordinator.

Her observation seems to back up a new survey by Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam, who reports that the attacks have brought Americans closer to each other and their government but haven't dramatically changed how they act.

After Sept. 11, Putnam revisited his 2000 book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," which chronicled a decline in the nation's sense of togetherness.

In that book, Putnam surveyed 30,000 Americans on their civic attitudes and behavior, including questions about their level of interest in politics, how often they read newspapers and how much they participate in community activities or organizations.

In October and November, Putnam resurveyed 500 participants in a random telephone survey and published the results in Wednesday's issue of The American Prospect.

Following the terrorist attacks, 51 percent said their level of trust in the national government grew, while 7 percent said it declined. Forty-two percent reported no change compared to Putnam's 2000 survey results.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents showed an increased interest in politics while 15 percent were less interested. Twenty-two percent said they expected more crisis support from friends, while 14 percent said they expected less.

When asked about their behavior, however, respondents were more inclined to give the same answers as they had a year before. The data showed that, overall, they had not increased church attendance or joined community organizations like labor unions or professional societies.

No margin of error was calculated for Putnam's survey results.

"I think I agree with him," said Shapiro, who said her organization's Web site got bombarded with hits after Sept. 11, but they didn't pan out into volunteers.

Putnam says national crises often provoke temporary changes in attitudes, but they usually fade before they affect behavior. The exception was Pearl Harbor.

"People who lived through Pearl Harbor and World War II, all their lives, voted more, joined more organizations, gave more blood, gave more money, gave more time, went to church more," he said.

But even then, change did not come quickly.

"The changes that occurred after Pearl Harbor didn't all show up in the first three months or six months," he said. "It would be quite unhistorical to expect to have big behavioral changes occur overnight in response to 9/11. That's why I'm not shocked that there haven't been big behavioral changes."