Paper 3 Practice: Trauma and the September 11 Attacks

Travis DixonAssessment (IB), Qualitative Research Methods, Revision and Exam Preparation

This Paper 3 practice is based on the events of September 11th, 2001 when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Centre Twin Towers in New York City (wikicommons).

The best way to prepare for Paper 3 is to do lots of practice. The study below is designed to replicate what you will see on Paper 3. 

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IB Psychology HL Paper 3 Practice

The stimulus material below is based on a qualitative study of the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA.

In September, 2001, New York City was the target of a series of terrorist attacks. Two airplanes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center skyscrapers (a.k.a. the Twin Towers) and these towers ended up collapsing, killing over 3,000 people. The impact of this attack on the psychological health of New Yorkers and Americans has been widely studied.

The aim of North et al.’s study was to understand the experiences of people who were working for companies located in and near the towers. In particular, they wanted to understand their experiences after the attacks. As most of the research has been conducted on the effects of the attacks on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), North et al. wanted to understand if there were other issues, as well.

A volunteer sample of 140 participants was recruited to participate in the study. The researchers asked the companies if they could study their employees. If they agreed, then potential participants were informed of the opportunity to take part in the study by the employer.

In total, 21 focus group interviews were conducted across a range of participants – there were focus groups made up of people that were working in companies at ground zero and in the tower at the time of the attack, while other focus groups were made up of people working in companies located a couple of blocks away from the towers. There was one interviewer who ran all interviews in a “nondi­rective fashion” and the interviewer asked open-ended questions to try to start spontaneous discussions of members’ thoughts, perceptions, feelings, responses, and concerns related to their experience of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The interviewer tried to prompt responses on topics such as the experiences of the attack itself, the participants’ emotional responses and how they coped, issues in the workplace after the attacks and issues of general public concern.

The researchers gathered informed consent and the study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the universities who were overseeing the study. The researchers note that “…separate focus groups were conducted for managers and non-managerial employees, helping to avoid participants’ reluctance to be candid in the presence of their superiors or subordinates in the groups.”

The results showed that symptoms related to PTSD was only a small part of the problems faced by their participants and there were a range of other issues and problems. They also found there was a difference in responses to the attacks between the groups depending on their location (i.e. those who were working in the towers at the time of the attacks and those who were not). This provides further evidence that the extent to which someone is exposed to trauma is very important to consider when trying to understand someone’s post-trauma experiences and how they adjust to life after the trauma.

North CS1, Barney CJ, Pollio DE. A focus group study of the impact of trauma exposure in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015 Apr;50(4):569-78. (Link)


Answer all of the following three questions, referring to the stimulus material in your answers. Marks will be awarded for demonstration of knowledge and understanding of research methodology.

1a. Identify the method used and outline two characteristics of the method. [3]

b. Describe the sampling method used in the study. [3]

c. Suggest an alternative or additional research method giving one reason for your choice. [3]

2. Describe the ethical considerations that were applied in the study and explain if further ethical considerations could be applied. [6]

3. Discuss the possibility of transferring the findings of the study. [9]


Paper 3 Exam Tip: If Question 3 uses the term “transferring” in the question you know the research method is qualitative. This will help you then choose the specific qualitative method used. Similarly, if it says “generalizing” you know it’s a quantitative method (e.g. correlational study or a type of experiment).

More Paper 3 practice papers and mark schemes are available in the Qualitative Methods TSP.