CHICAGO, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Remember the kinder, gentler nation former President George H.W. Bush talked about more than a decade ago?
Well, it apparently arrived after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A study by social science researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania indicates that Americans' self-assessment of their capacity for such character strengths as love, gratitude, hope, kindness, spirituality and teamwork increased after the destruction of New York's World Trade Center towers and part of the Pentagon.
"All these strengths involve other people as well as reflecting beliefs about the meaning of life," said Christopher Peterson, a U-M psychologist and co-director of the Values in Action Institute, which conducted the study.
The study involved some 1,000 pre- and post-Sept. 11 responses to a questionnaire posted online that asked people to rate their capacity on 24 character strengths in such areas as wisdom and knowledge, courage, love, justice, temperance and transcendence. Some 451 responses were tallied before Sept. 11 and 625 after the attacks.
"The theological virtues cited by St. Paul -- faith, hope and charity -- were precisely those that showed the greatest increase," Peterson said.
The only character strength to decline in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks was love of learning.
"This was only a very slight decline and may reflect an understandable overload with media coverage of the terrorist attacks," he said.
Peterson said women's perceptions of their strengths changed less than men's. He attributes this to women's tendency to score higher than men in general in categories like kindness, generosity and nurturance.
"Women simply had less room for improvement," he said. "Another way to view this gender difference is that men's profile of character strengths became more similar to those of women, suggesting that all of us became more attuned to other people in the wake of Sept. 11."
The study also showed older people scoring higher than younger people in authenticity and fairness and married people were more forgiving than their single counterparts.
With the attacks four months ago, Peterson said, the results appear to be leveling off and it remains unclear whether they will drop back to their pre-Sept. 11 levels.
Peterson noted that because the study was conducted online, he had little control over those who responded.
"It's possible that Sept. 11 didn't change people but influenced who did or did not log onto our Web site," he said. "We compared the demographic characteristics of those who responded before and after the attack and found no major differences but there might be other important differences in the two groups of people we're contrasting."
However, the study is supported by other evidence. In the wake of Sept. 11, the American Red Cross collected $732.4 million for the Liberty Fund to aid victims and their families and blood donations increased markedly.
People's attitudes toward each other also changed.
An annual survey released last month by manners maven Marjabelle Young Stewart showed New York had tied Charleston, S.C., as the most polite city in the United States after not making the top 10 list at all for five years, and then just barely.