Why Kennedy’s Assassination Increased Heart Attacks in Dallas For Years Afterward

By Breanna Draxler | November 22, 2013 2:34 pm
kennedy motorcade

Courtesy Library of Congress.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. In the wake of traumatic events like these, people often band together in response to their shared loss. But the results aren’t always rosy. After the death of JFK, many people wanted to find something or someone to blame, be it politics or conspiracies or each other.

Dallas bore the brunt of this finger-pointing, and became known as “the city of hate.” The negative effects on the city’s psyche raised Dallas’s rates for murder, suicide, and even heart attacks.

Steven Davis, a historical writer and curator in Texas, addresses the issue in his recent book, Dallas 1963, about the evolution of the city’s character in that pivotal year. In an interview with the Guardian, Davis said that the people of Dallas were under severe psychological stress after the assassination, and it manifested in their physical health: the number of heart attacks in the city rose by 40%, Davis says.

Stress Effects

This had knock-on effects for even those Dallas residents who were far from Dealey Plaza that day.

Psychologist James Pennebaker notes in his book Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives that in the four years following JFK’s assassination, deaths due to heart disease went up 4 percent in Dallas, whereas the rate in other Texas cities, and in the nation as a whole, dropped 2 percent. Likewise, for the two years following the loss of the president, murder and suicide rates increased significantly in Dallas when compared to control cities.

Other stressors have been observed to have similar effects on public health. For instance, after a 1981 earthquake in Athens, stress increased cardiac-related deaths in the area by 50% over the following days. Those effects can hold true even when the stressors in question are relatively minor. Japanese and Chinese individuals suffer fatal heart attacks at an unusually high rate on the 4th day of every month, apparently because 4 is an unlucky number in those cultures.

Stress induced by the Kennedy assassination and the negative national attention that followed, therefore, took many Dallas residents to an early grave. But it did have some positive effects, Pennebaker notes: Dallas residents donated more money to the United Way and other charities in the years that followed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology, stress
  • gcochran

    What utter nonsense.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Nilesh Chanchani

      Agree this sounds like nonsense.

    • Karch_Buttreau

      It does not sound rational, but humans don’t always behave rationally.

  • duaa Khan



    Dallas had the most concentrated Kennedy voter population?BTW, I think the Chinese and Japanese part is nonsense or some sort of coincidence

    • MyKitchenandI

      I can’t say for Japanese, but the word for death in Chinese is sî and the word sì, is the word for four. The pronunciation is very similar, just a difference in tone, so four has been considered an unlucky number associated with death. The belief that four is unlucky and associated with death is psychosomatic, certainly, but the effect, more deaths appears to be real enough eh? What we believe is very powerful.

      note: I couldn’t make the third tone quite right. That symbol over the first i is actually upside down.

      • Marta Fernandes

        It’s the same way in Japanese. The word for four and for death is the same, although there is another (preferred) way of saying four. They’re very superstitious about it. The floor numbering of some buildings reflects that. One goes from the 3rd floor to the 5th floor, there’s no 4th floor.

  • MidnightSkulker

    If people were sent to early graves by the stigma of Dallas being the city “responsible” for killing JFK, lay the blame for their deaths on the leftist controlled media, which never fails to pile on any target they choose for vilification.

  • HaywoodZarathustra

    Dude that supposedly did the deed hailed from Louisiana. In the same vein, J. W. Booth was a British citizen as both his parents were Englanders.

    • Lee Cahalan

      Sorry but Oswald was not connected to the assassins at all. Other than he was SET UP BY THEM TO TAKE THE FALL. In his wallet at the time of his arrest in Dallas was a pay stub from the FBI. Lee Harvey Oswald’s FBI informant number was “S-179”. This according to Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr who was never allowed to mention these facts in testimony to the coverup committee we know as the Warren Commission… Oswald was receiving a $200/month stipend from J Edgar Hoover who used him in the capacity as a pretend Communist. Oswald would fake being a Castro supporting Commie, form groups of real American Communists and then rat them out directly to Hoover. One of the real killers of John Kennedy is George H W Bush who left a trail a mile wide and only a yard long. His guilt a testament to how complicit the media has been in doing the bidding of CIA. Lying and spying on ordinary Americans the past fifty years. Even Bush’s oldest and most ignorant, and stupid son Dubyah is at least slightly complicit on the coverup. We see him IN DALLAS Texas right in Dealey Plaza within minutes of Kennedy being killed.

  • William Burke

    Well, big surprise. There were a lot of material witnesses who needed to “commit suicide” in Dallas, or die of “heart attacks”.

  • Mike_Trail

    Couldn’t be that every single Man smoked like a chimney back in 1963—you have all seen the footage..every person was huffing a cancer stick back then.

  • Matt

    There is no way you can filter out other possible reasons, whether environmental or just random fluctuations in death rate.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar