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  • Bar-Ilan University study links certain characteristics with ISIS anxiety

    Date: 2017-06-11 Hour: 7:49

    A new Bar-Ilan University study examines the characteristics of individuals who are most likely to have anxiety concerning threats posed by ISIS.

    In the study of 1007 adult Israelis, being female, having a lower socio-economic status, and having elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were related to ISIS anxiety. Exposure to ISIS in the media and having low resilience were also linked to ISIS anxiety. Finally, the PTSD-ISIS relationship was especially pronounced when the mental resources of resilience and optimism were low. Resilience is defined mainly as a resource aimed at dealing with a current threat, while optimism is defined as a resource related to future outcomes.

    "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," says Dr. Yaakov Hoffman, of the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences, who is the author of the study, just published in Stress and Health.  "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 adds that while ISIS is a relatively small organization, 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, ISIS media exposure is wider than exposure to its physical threats. The 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. Like the millions of people worldwide who have been exposed to ISIS media, viewers may believe that ISIS media viewing is unrelated to their psychological wellbeing. 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," says Hoffman.

    Aside from addressing the ISIS media-ISIS anxiety association, Hoffman also wished to look at the psychological profile of those who are more prone to ISIS anxiety. Towards this end, he introduced a measure for examining ISIS anxiety, along with measuring one's level of resilience, optimism and previous PTSD 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, according to Hoffman. ISIS's media campaign is the first of its kind with viral media exposure of global proportions. In addition, having high PTSD levels was also robustly related to ISIS anxiety levels. Finally, this PTSD-ISIS anxiety association was strongest when both resilience (resource needed for coping in the present) and optimism (resource needed for coping in the future) were low.