U.S. consumer sentiment softened in September but held up better than economists feared as this month's attacks heightened anxiety among American consumers, market sources said a Friday report showed.

The University of Michigan's final consumer sentiment index fell to 81.8 in September, its lowest level in nearly eight years, and down from 91.5 in August, sources said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a drop to 79.6.

Half of the 500 responses were taken after the Sept. 11 attacks and the findings mirrored similar polls showing American pessimism mounted after the attacks. Consumer confidence already was weakening as the economy slowed sharply before the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.

The current conditions index, a gauge of how Americans feel about present economic conditions, fell to 94.6 in September from 101.2 in August. The September expectations gauge of the index, which tracks attitudes about the future, tumbled to 73.5 in September from 85.2 in August.