Friday, 22 February 2008

Baghdad teenagers show heightened sense of self in the face of war

For obvious reasons, few social science researchers have ventured into Iraq since the American-led invasion. However, in 2004, a year into the hostilities, the US Army funded a team of Iraqi interviewers, based at the Asharq Centre for Polls and Marketing Research, to go into ten neighbourhoods of Baghdad to survey the concerns and self-esteem of 1000 teenagers.

The results showed that rather than damaging their sense of self, the war appeared to have bolstered the teenagers' self-esteem, especially in those who felt most strongly that their country was under threat.

Co-ordinated by Morten Ender of the United States Military Academy, the interviewers asked the teenagers several items from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale including "I feel I am a person of worth" and "I am inclined to think that I am a failure".

Overall, the teenagers had reasonably high self-esteem, comparable to the levels reported for teenagers in other predominantly Arab societies such as Palestine. A key pattern to emerge from the self-esteem data was the tendency for teenagers who felt their country was more threatened to also report greater self-esteem, an association not observed for feelings of family threat. The association held even after controlling for other factors such as religious denomination.

The researchers said their finding was consistent with Social Identity Theory, which predicts that people will seek to maintain their sense of self when their identity is under threat. It's also consistent with research on mortality salience, showing that people tend to shore up their sense of self when reminded of, or threatened by, risk of death.

Regarding the issues they felt were most important to their nation, the majority of teenagers said the departure of the multi-national force was most crucial, followed by peace.
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CARLTON-FORD, S., ENDER, M., TABATABAI, A. (2008). Iraqi adolescents: Self-regard, self-derogation, and perceived threat in war. Journal of Adolescence, 31(1), 53-75. DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2007.04.006

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

3 comments:

  1. I've never understood the supposed value of "self-esteem" among teenagers. I have seen studies that showed that the football stars and the schoolyard bullies have the highest levels of self-esteem, while the most intelligent students are often filled with self-doubt (which is a burdon primarily of intelligence and the ability for introspection) and are often ostracized by their peers, further undermining their self-esteem.

    While too little self-esteem is a serious problem among teens, I believe that too much self-esteem (and for all the wrong reasons) may be equally detrimental.

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  2. Jimmy L10:41 pm

    What? They're not scared of death? Can we say stoopid?

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  3. Anonymous1:11 pm

    But the control group was teenagers form Palestine? But palestine is equally if not more so under threat and attack? This also then contradicts the newer article that terrorism boosts self-esteem. Israel have put more terror on Palestinian teenagers than possible our troops have done in Iraq.

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