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.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchCARLTON-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
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