Screenshot of ISIS video threatening attacks in London.
(photo credit: screenshot)
A Bar-Ilan University researcher has identified characteristics of people who are most likely to have anxiety concerning threats posed by the terrorist group ISIS.
The study, “Who is Afraid of ISIS? ISIS Anxiety and its Correlates,” has just been published in the journal Stress and Health.
“The findings may have important implications for addressing heightened anxiety in the event of elevated terrorist threats in terms of showing that exposure to ISIS media is detrimental to one’s mental health and increases ISIS anxiety beyond one’s level of general anxiety,” said Dr. Yaakov Hoffman of Bar-Ilan University’s Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences, who authored the study.
Hoffman examined 1,007 adult Israelis and found that being female, having a lower socioeconomic status and having elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms were related to ISIS anxiety.
Exposure to the terrorist group in the media and having low resilience were also linked to ISIS anxiety. Finally, the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and the terrorist group was especially pronounced when the mental resources of resilience and optimism were low.
Resilience is defined as a resource aimed at dealing with a current threat, while optimism is defined as a resource related to future outcomes.
“Furthermore, the results may suggest that increasing one’s optimism and resilience may mitigate the ISIS threat sensitivity, especially in individuals with PTSD symptoms,” Hoffman said.
While ISIS is a relatively small organization, he said, it has succeeded in generating debate with regard to security measures and policy changes in many Western countries. In stark contrast to the physical ISIS danger, media exposure of the terrorist organization is more significant than exposure to its physical threats. Its highly skillful media campaign conveying apocalyptic messages, executions and future threats continues its success in both recruiting its believers and, apparently, spreading terror.
“Going into different university classes and asking students ‘Is there anyone here who did not see ISIS-related media?’ I was surprised by the vast majority who repeatedly indicated that they have viewed such ISIS media,” Hoffman said. “Like the millions of people worldwide who have been exposed to the group’s media, viewers may believe that such media viewing is unrelated to their psychological well–being. As opposed to data showing that people directly exposed to ISIS terror may suffer profoundly, it was hitherto unknown if ISIS media exposure is detrimental to one’s psychological health.”
Aside from addressing the media-anxiety association, Hoffman also examined the psychological profile of those who are more prone to ISIS anxiety. Toward this end, he introduced a measure for it, along with monitoring the level of resilience, optimism and previous post-traumatic stress disorder symptom levels.
The novel finding of ISIS media exposure being related to increased ISIS anxiety – even after controlling for general anxiety symptoms – is both interesting and important, Hoffman concluded.
The terrorists’ media campaign is the first of its kind with viral media exposure of global proportions. In sum, having high post-traumatic stress disorder levels was closely related to ISIS anxiety levels. Finally, this association between post-traumatic stress disorder and ISIS anxiety was strongest when both resilience and optimism were at low levels.