The researchers, from Old Dominion University and the College Board in New York, told the American Psychological Association conference in Boston that most disaster research focused on negative responses to the traumatic event.
Gary Capobianco and Thanos Patelis said little research on air disasters had been done because there were usually few survivors, and those who did seldom wanted to share their experiences.
In their study, a key determinant of how the survivors responded was whether they felt in control at the time of the accident, either over the events that led to the crash (in the case of the crew) or over their reaction to it (did they get out of the plane quickly, help others or have to be helped by others?).
Mr Capobianco said: "Survivors who felt they had control over how they acted or what they said or did in reaction to the crash reported less distress. Future research should focus on how experiencing a traumatic event can provide a positive benefit to, or become a resource for, a survivor.".
Earlier research on shipwreck survivors also found positive changes in their outlook on life, self-esteem and stress.
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