How Personality Affects Vulnerability among Israelis and Palestinians following the 2009 Gaza Conflict


Can the onset of PTSD symptoms and depression be predicted by personality factors and thought control strategies? A logical explanation for the different mental health outcomes of individuals exposed to trauma would seem to be personality factors and thought control strategies. Trauma exposure is necessary but not sufficient for the development of PTSD. To this end, we assess the role of personality traits and coping styles in PTSD vulnerability among Israeli and Palestinian students amid conflict. We also determine whether gender and exposure level to trauma impact the likelihood of the onset of PTSD symptoms. Five questionnaires assess previous trauma, PTSD symptoms, demographics, personality factors and thought control strategies, which are analyzed using path analysis. Findings show that the importance of personality factors and thought control strategies in predicting vulnerability increases in the face of political violence: the higher stress, the more important the roles of personality and thought control strategies. Thought control strategies associated with introverted and less emotionally stable personality-types correlate positively with higher levels of PTSD symptoms and depression, particularly among Palestinians. By extension, because mental health is key to reducing violence in the region, PTSD reduction in conflict zones warrants rethinking.

 Daphna Canetti |Shaul Kimhi | Rasmiyah Hanoun | Gabriel A. Rocha | Sandro Galea | Charles A. Morgan III


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from exposure to conflict increases threat perceptions, contributing to support for militant policies. While it is widely accepted and known that exposure to traumatic events leads to PTSD, there are several theories that suggest different mechanisms for this relationship. One mechanism is resources, according to the Conservation of Resources Theory (COR) the loss or gain of both personal and material resources may affect an individuals’ likelihood to experience PTSD. COR theory suggests that the influence of any stress on an individual depends primarily on the threat of loss and / or real loss of resources. The theory talks about four categories of resources: material, personal, resources which are connected to living conditions, and “energy” resources such as money and knowledge. Other studies have also shown that cognitive function, appraisal and threat perceptions are additional mechanisms that have been used to explore the relationship between exposure to traumatic events and PTSD. Besser et al.  found personality to help explain the association between an individual’s PTSD and the severity of their trauma exposure.

The current study expands on these theories to examine how various mechanisms such as to what degree personality factors and thought control strategies play a role in determining whether an individual exposed to traumatic events will experience PTSD and/or depression symptoms. Furthermore, it is understood that individual circumstances may alter the extent to which these mechanisms apply and the extent to which individuals may experience PTSD and/ or depression symptoms. This study therefore uses exposure to traumatic events from Gaza 2008–2009 to compare how Palestinians and Israelis—exposed to the same conflict but having different socio-economic status—differ from one another in each aspect of our theory.

Traumatic events’ negative psychological effects have been discussed in several studies. Reliving, or being unable to reconcile these events, over a long period of time may cause PTSD, as well as emotional and behavioral problems. We examine PTSD symptoms and depression among Palestinian and Israeli students who live under stress from exposure to traumatic events from the ongoing conflict between these two nations.

 While exposure to trauma may lead to psychopathology and ill-health for some, others show resilience. The variability among peoples’ ability to withstand potential traumatic events, PTE, may be due to the interplay between genetic, biological processes and different environments. In order to examine differences and similarities between Palestinian and Israeli students we focus on one situational characteristic (level of exposure) and two individual characteristics (two of the Big Five personality factors and five thought control strategies) as predictors of PTSD symptoms and depression which share comorbidity.

Exposure to traumatic experience

Several studies have shown that war and ongoing political violence are associated with higher levels of PTSD symptoms and depression. In low-income countries, such as in the West Bank, the impact of political violence on mental health may be exacerbated by deteriorating economic conditions, education, social services, routine functioning of government, availability of food, services, and industry. This echoes Conservation of Resources theory which argues that the internal (i.e. self-esteem) and external resources of an individual may mitigate levels of PTSD. The Palestinian students represent such a population.

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