The Interplay between Personality and the Development of PTSD Symptoms in Israelis and Palestinians

By: Ruchama Benhamou  |  February 20, 2024

By Ruchama Benhamou, Managing Editor

In “How Personality Affects Vulnerability among Israelis and Palestinians following the 2009 Gaza Conflict,” Canetti et al. explore the intricate interplay of factors that increase the development of PTSD in Israeli and Palestinian students. Although vivid exposure to trauma is regarded as the most significant cause of PTSD, research suggests that personality traits (based on the “Big Five Personality Traits”) as well as individual cognitive mechanisms or strategies due to subjective environmental surroundings can be significant determinants of PTSD and depressive symptoms. This quantitative study examines the effects of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the results of its flare-ups among Israeli and Palestinian students alike, particularly the increased rate of PTSD and/or depressive symptoms due to the degree of exposure to the conflict.

Canetti et al. explain three hypotheses to effectively research this: “H1: Palestinian students will report higher levels of trauma experience, PTSD and depression than Israeli students. H2: Higher levels of extraversion and emotional stability are hypothesized to predict higher levels of PTSD and depression. These predictions will be stronger among Palestinians than Israelis. H3: The five thought control strategies will significantly predict levels of PTSD and depression: higher use of worry and punishment will predict higher levels of PTSD and depression. These predictions will be stronger among Palestinians than Israelis.” To determine the validity and reliability of their hypotheses. Canetti et al. utilized sampling and data accumulation methods through surveys. These various surveys consisted of questions to target symptoms of PTSD and/or depression, trauma exposures, subjective cognitive processes, demographics, environmental factors, as well as individual personality traits, at different universities in Israel.

Specifically, the independent variables featured in this study consisted of various surveys and questionnaires regarding trauma responses and personality traits, such as the “Brief Trauma Questionnaire,” “Ten Item Personality Inventory,” and “Thought Control Questionnaire.” On the other hand, dependent variables are seen through questions aimed specifically at factors such as depressive symptoms, PTSD, and demographic conditions among participants. Researchers in this study utilized meticulous data collection through precise sampling of students in different universities across Israel, as well as students of intersecting social identities.

The results of this study indicated that symptoms of PTSD and depression were overall higher among Palestinian university students than Israeli students. Through the use of a MANOVA analysis, the statistical distribution suggested a strong correlation between individual personality traits and subjective cognitive mechanisms in the development of these symptoms. Although Palestinian students expressed higher rates of negative symptoms, there were positive correlations indicating that Israeli students also experienced symptoms of depression and PTSD regarding the rise and fall of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Specifically, the group’s original hypothesis regarding the extent to which personality traits affect the development of negative symptoms seems to be supported by the descriptive statistics. Through the different questionnaires targeting trauma exposure, individual responses have highlighted how personality traits regarding emotional stability, temperament, effective coping mechanisms, and notions of reward and punishment have greatly affected the onset of depressive and/or PTSD symptoms.

This study examines how the reality of living within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in connection with subjective personality traits is greatly correlated with the development of PTSD and/or depression among university students. The research sample of Israeli and Palestinian university students from lower socioeconomic statuses, their inability to access resources, and the politically-charged environment can be great determinants of overall mental health. Although both Israeli and Palestinian students experience trauma due to the conflict, rates of depressive and PTSD symptoms are higher in Palestinian students, likely due to their lower socioeconomic position within society. Particularly, a lower social class, coupled with subjective personality factors and individual comprehension of reward, punishment, and overall conflict, has been suggested to be linked to the development of these comorbid symptoms. Both groups of students exhibit correlational indications that trauma exposure due to the conflict with subjective personality traits greatly affects mental health, while negative correlations of depressive and PTSD symptoms, such as distractions from charged events and social controls, are suggested. Although Palestinian students are more susceptible to developing these negative symptoms, more research on the link between personality and symptoms of trauma exposure should be conducted, as they can and will affect more populations.

Personally, I found this study to be quite intriguing. Due to the current Israeli-Hamas War, as well as volunteering in Israel over winter break, I wanted to research different theories on why PTSD can develop among those in Israeli society. I was interested to learn how personality plays an intricate role in the determination of such symptoms, yet also disheartened to see how many young lives are affected by the rise and fall of this conflict.