President’s Plane Causes Some to Panic

April 30, 2009
AP image of Air Force One

AP image of the President's plane

Sociologists argue shared social experiences influence patterns of human behavior. An infamous example of this might be the terrorists’ airliner attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. Recently, a 747 jet aircraft that serves as Air Force One when the President of the United States is on board, flew low over the Statute of Liberty and southern Manhattan. The president’s office explained this was done so that publicity photographs could be taken of the aircraft. However, something unexpected happened—people in the Financial District near the World Trade Center panicked, mistaking this for another terrorist attack.


Using this example to explore the application of the sociological imagination, would you like to respond to one of the discussion topics below?

1. What does the response of the people tell us about how the severity of (how bad) a social experience can shape human behavior? Which do you think is more important in explaining patterns of human behavior in society: frequency (how often something occurs) or severity (strength of impact)?

2. What does this occurrence tell us about how we learn the meanings of social behavior? Can you illustrate your response by a more common example?

3. Do you think this response could have been predicted? Why? How can this illustrate the utility of the sociological imagination?

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One comment

  1. If the airline was to do the experience from the publicity then it is not really a good idea to be flying so low to a statue or a building, because this might will cause the damage on the social lived. … I don’t know yet that there be another way of this kind of experience that be more safety….

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