Study: Trauma influences Gazan terror

Teens with family killed, hurt by IDF more likely to back aggression.

July 9, 2010 04:57
3 minute read.
A HAMAS man and his children, one clutching a mart

Terrorists and kids 311. (photo credit: Ben Curtis/AP)


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An international study of Gazan teens has found that those who most supported terrorism have at least one family member who was wounded or killed by IDF action against terrorism.

The team, led by human aggression expert Prof. Jeff Victoroff at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, said that the most militant and aggressive youth are more closely linked to “past trauma and perceived political injustice, rather than to aggression.”

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They were twice as likely to express support for religiouspolitical aggression (RPA) than those who had not been hurt by IDF actions, Victoroff said. In contrast, the data revealed “no relationship between trait aggression and support for RPA.”

Trauma, injustice is root of aggressive behavior - not 'extrimist' views

The team included researchers from Tel Aviv University, the Islamic University in Gaza, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Stanford University and Claremont Graduate University.

“It might be tempting to think of extremists as aggressive people, and of course there are certainly aggressive extremists in this dangerous world,” said the clinical neuropsychiatrist.

“But our findings suggest two different root causes of support for political violence – traumatic life experiences and a perception of injustice.”

The paper, which appears as the lead article in the journal Aggressive Behavior, is the first of a two-part study looking at aggression among adolescent males in this region.

Victoroff said the “implications of the findings are potentially both tactically and strategically important for the US.

Although support for political aggression is widespread in Gaza, the attitudes of teens in the region may determine the future course of the conflict.This is actually potentially good news. It lends support to the new counter-insurgency policy that includes energetically addressing human grievances.”

'Individual factors are important' in determining cause of aggressive behavior

Some experts believe individual factors play no part in extremism and that anyone who has contact with an extremist is likely to become an extremist. Others working to understand terrorism disagree.

“If it were just a matter of living in harsh conditions and being in contact with terrorists, then all of the 1.5 million people living in Gaza would support Hamas. They don’t, which suggests that individual factors are important,” Victoroff said.

“Since all political attitudes are ultimately mediated by the brain, the question becomes: What is it about the lives, the personal psychologies or the brains of people who have a political grievance that drives some of them, and not others, toward extremism?” During the second intifada, which began in September 2000, the team recruited 53 Gazan boys aged 14. They obtained demographic information about the boys and their families, including exposure to political violence. The teens also completed five selfrating questionnaires to measure characteristics such as aggression, anxiety, depression and perceived oppression.

Victoroff emphasized that one should be careful not to draw firm conclusions from one medium-sized study.

His research team also investigated how hormones influence extremist attitudes. Since testosterone and cortisol affect brain function, the team tested the hypothesis that levels of these hormones would predict political attitudes. Those results will be published in the second part of their research.

The study was supported in part by the NATO Security through Science Program and by the Freya Foundation for Brain, Behavior and Society.

TAU security studies head: Findings are 'logical'

Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, head of TAU’s security studies who did not take part in Victoroff’s research, said it was “logical” that those with supportive views toward terror had a personal connection by having someone in the family who had been injured or killed.

Those terror organizers who seek people to carry out terror attacks most likely find it easier to recruit people who have personal motivation, he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Only thousands of Palestinians in Gaza become terrorists out of the 1.5 million, so it is logical that such individuals have extreme views, he said.

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