2011. Vol.2, No.8, 781-791
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.28120
Identity Salience and Its Dynamics in Palestinians Adolescents
Ibrahim A. Kira1, Abdul Wahhab Nasser Alawneh2, Sharifa Aboumediane1,
Jamal Mohanesh3, Bulent Ozkan4, Hala Alamia1
1Center of Cumulative Trauma Studies, Stone Mountain, USA;
2Arab and Middle East Resource Center, Dearborn, USA;
3ACCESS Community Health and Research Center, Dearborn, USA;
4Wayne State University, Detroit, USA.
Received May 8th, 2011; revised August 29th, 2011; accepted October 2nd, 2011.
The goal is to build and test a measure for identity salience and use it to explore the validity of some assump-
tions of the identity trauma theory (ITT). ITT suggests that the salience of identity concerns, personal, and col-
lective enhances or negatively affect agency and self-efficacy and explain suicidality and militancy. Using sam-
ples of 880 Palestinian adolescents, we developed in the first study a measure for identity salience that included
sub-scales for identity commitment and militancy. In the second study we used the measure along with measures
for fear of death, mental health variables, and trauma types. Personal identity traumas were associated with de-
crease in fear of death; increase in mental health problems and in clinical suicide. Collective identity traumas
were associated with increase in identity commitment and militancy. Militancy was found to be associated with
decreased PTSD which suggests that militancy acts as anxiety buffer. Identity commitment was associated with
decrease in militancy. The implications of the results were discussed.
Keywords: Identity Salience, Mortality Salience, Suicidality, Militancy, Identity Trauma Theory
Identity develops through life from attachment to parents
(Bowlby, 1969, 1988) to autonomy and independence to the
stage of interdependence and being part of the networks of the
society. An impressive body of research focused on the early
development and related attachment dynamics. Individuation
and identity development did not attract, so far, an equal atten-
tion of research. Identity development of the individual is con-
nected to the individuation process in early adolescence and
adulthood (e.g., Erikson, 1963; Gross, 1987; Rasmussen, & Eri-
kson, 1964). In adolescence and early adulthood. The individ-
ual develops, at this stage, increased self awareness and in-
creasingly complex identity to grow with him over his/her life
span. The acquired identity, at this stage of development, be-
came central to personal and interpersonal dynamics. Accord-
ing to developmental theories, self-definition that determines
identity comprises of, at least, two fundamental self-represen-
tations or self-schemata: Personal self representations and so-
cial or group self representations that connect the individual to
his status in the global interdependent network. The second is
derived from membership in larger, more impersonal collec-
tives or social categories (e.g. Tajfel, & Turner, 1986). Based
on this developmental framework, (ITT) differentiates between
at least two different kinds of identity traumas that can chal-
lenge the existence of either: personal identity Trauma (PIT)
(e.g., violation of self autonomy by rape, sexual or physical
abuse, and involve fears of loss of autonomy and independent
identity that the individual develops), and collective or social
identity trauma (CIT) (e.g., targeted genocide, holocaust, slav-
ery, discrimination, and different kinds of social structural vio-
lence that may triggers fears of the group subjugation or anni-
hilation), (e.g., Kira, 2001; Kira, 2010, Kira et al., 2008). CIT
that may overwhelm individuals can be socio-political, histori-
cal or social structural traumas (SST). SSTs are those traumas
associated with perceived relative deprivation and/or social
structural violence. Examples of social structural violence are
extreme poverty (e.g., Cassiman, 2005, Smith, Spears, & Ham-
stra, 1999; Walker, & Pettigrew, 1984), and extreme gender
discrimination. (e.g., Kira et al., 2010)
PITs and CITs are main causal factors for identity terror and
fear of losing the developmentally acquired identities. Each
identity trauma type may challenge the respective identity sheer
existence, causing identity annihilation terror, and may nega-
tively affects physical and mental health as well as related per-
sonal, social and political dynamics. Further, collective Identity
is increasingly conceptualized as fundamental to the mainte-
nance and reproduction of political conflict (Kira, 2002, 2006).
According to this theory, self-efficacy feelings, as contrasted
to self-esteem, buffer against fear of loss of identities that the
individual develops across life (Bandura, 1997). Acquired iden-
tities are nested in hierarchical dynamic structure. Identity
nested hierarchy is a dynamic coherent whole, that is derived
by a governing self-agency that is associated with feelings of
self-efficacy and/or collective agency and control beliefs (cf,
e.g., Bandura, 1997, Kira, 2002, 2006, 2010).
Identity traumas, within this development-based trauma
frame work, are contrasted to other trauma types, for example,
attachment traumas (e.g., abandonment by mother of her infant)
that involve fears of security loss that negatively activates secu-
rity salience, and survival traumas (e.g., attacks by weapons, or
natural disasters) and involve fears of death that triggers mor-
tality salience (Kira et al., 2008, Kira, 2010). On the other hand,
identity traumas can cause fears and terror of identity loss/
identity annihilation or subjugation and/or return to the state of
dependency, threatening the salience of personal or collective
Identity salience or dormancy refers to the status of one iden-
tity in the hierarchy of nested identities, whether it is central, or
peripheral. Individuals process stimuli according to their as-
signed negative or positive value as relevant and important and
their potential threat to their salient identities (Kira, 1987,
1997). More salient, relevant, super-ordinate, or central identi-
ties are more likely to be activated and act as lens through
which individuals appraise and process relevant situational
information. Identities higher in the salience/dormancy hierar-
chy will take precedence over identities lower in the salience/
dormancy hierarchy and will direct/bias individual perceptions,
emotions and actions and establish situational priorities. (c.f.,
e.g., Stryker, & Burke, 2000, Stryker, & Serpe, 1982, McCall,
& Simmons, 1978; Ashmore, Deaux, & McLaughlin-Volpe.,
2004; Kira, 2010).
Nested identities hierarchy is mostly dynamic and is modifi-
able by different types of identity traumatic events. Serious
threats to one’s dormant identity can move it to be more salient
and rearrange the centrality and salience of identities in the
dynamic nested identities’ hierarchy. Realigning the nested
identity hierarchy can be ongoing process. Several assumptions
were deduced from trauma identity theory framework:
1) Collective identity traumas, (e.g., the holocaust, Septem-
ber 11, or Pearl Harbor attack) kindle this national or group
collective identity to be more salient and push personal or
physical identity to be more dormant decreasing fear of physi-
cal death, and increasing fear of group or collective annihila-
tion/ extinction or subjugation. The opposite will happen if the
event is related to personal identity, for example rape attack or
domestic violence, which may rearrange the salience hierarchy.
2) Collective identity, when became salient, increases the
level of commitment, for example ethnic group solidarity, and
militancy to protect such identity (cf., e.g., Ibn Khaldûn, 1968).
Identities with higher levels of commitment and militancy will
take precedence over those with lower levels of commitment
and/or militancy, when action is called for.
3) Identity traumas, personal, and collective, activate differ-
ent type of primal fears that deactivate fear of death. When
personal identity is seriously threatened, self-annihilation panic
can erupt and deactivate the salience of collective identity as
well as individual’s mortality and may trigger suicidal thoughts
and actions. Conversely, serious collective identity threats, for
example in a struggle against domination or oppression, can
activate collective annihilation, sub-ordination or subjugation
fears and deactivate personal identity concerns as well as mor-
tality salience and may trigger militancy and/or extremism. In
each case, mortality concerns become dormant.
4) Persons who reach such level of militancy to one’s own
salient identity may be ready to ignore or even sacrifice the
existence of other less salient identities. An example is commit-
ting suicide (eliminating the physical entity); to regain personal
autonomy and control that they perceive they lost by rape, in-
cest or betrayal. Another example is the readiness to die for the
country in a war to promote or achieve the collective national
identity goals (Kira, 2002, 2006).
The Goals of the First Study
The goal of the first study is to develop a measure for collec-
tive identity commitment and militancy (identity salience) and
explore its reliability, and test its construct validity. We will
test its predictive validity through testing basic predictions of
trauma developmental theory in the second study. Testing the
measure on samples of Palestinian adolescents may allow us to
further test some of assumptions of this theory in adolescents
that are subjected to high collective identity trauma load and are
developing highly politicized collective identity.
The First Study
Hypothesis 1: Identity salience scale (ISS) developed in this
study has adequate reliability.
Hypothesis 2: ISS has adequate construct validity in the
population under study.
The First Study: Method
Participants were 880 adolescents, high school students from
Gaza and West Bank in Palestine (438 from West bank, and
442 from Gaza). While we used Gaza data to conduct confir-
matory factor analysis of identity salience scale, the focus of
this paper will be on West Bank participants (N = 438).
Family size seemed to be higher in Gaza compare to West
Bank samples.
West Bank participants included 54.6% males, and 45.4%
females. Age ranged from 12 - 19, mean age was 15.66, SD of
1.43. Family size ranged from 2 - 22 with mean of 7.99, SD
2.69. 40% of the participants were from middle school and 60%
from high school.
Gaza’s Participants included 442 adolescents, 47.5% males
and 52.5% females. Participants included 5% from villages’
residents, 50.3% from Gaza city residents, and 44.7% from
refugee camps’ residents. Age ranged between11 and 19, with
mean of 15.89 and SD of 2.86. Family size average was 9.77
and SD of 2.79. Family size seemed to be higher in Gaza com-
pare to West Bank samples. In the sample 99% are Muslims
and 1% is Christians.
A focus group discussion of five professionals developed a
pool of fifty items that focus on person’s group identity com-
mitment and militancy according to the theory. The fifty items
scale tested in small convenient sample of 30 Arab refugee
adolescents in USA. Based on item analysis and the least num-
ber of items criteria, research team chose 10 items that repre-
sent the concept of identity salience. Research team decided to
make the items non-specific to a group, we added other ques-
tions that ask about which groups of belonging are more im-
portant and relevant at the time as separate probe questions.
The study was approved by Palestinian Authority. Partici-
pants were recruited through West Bank and Gaza School sys-
tems and covered 7 schools in each region. The seven schools
were randomly selected and included schools from refugee
camps. Participation was completely voluntary and fully in-
formed. Research participants told that they may withdraw
from the study at any time. Parents were informed of the nature
of the research that target understanding the effects of different
traumas on their children health and mental health; active in-
formed parental consent and written adolescents’ ascent were
obtained or offered by participating schools and research team.
Some parents approved verbally but chose not to sign due the
political situation at the time or for other reasons. No identify-
ing information was recorded that can link the subjects to the
data. The disclosure of the data could not reasonably place the
subjects at any risk or any liability according to federal and
local human subjects’ guidelines. Interviews were conducted
face-to-face in Arabic by trained Palestinian teachers and local
research team and took between 45 - 60 minutes as it included
other measures than those utilized in this presentation.
The participation was 75% from randomly chosen classes
within the seven schools. The field work was conducted from
January to March 2005 in West Bank and from April to June
2005 in Gaza. The final version of the measure was tested in
Gaza and West Bank participants separately.
Scale alpha analysis was conducted to check the reliability of
the measure. Test re-test was conducted on small sample (n =
30). Exploratory factor analysis was conducted on West Bank
sub-sample (n = 438) and confirmatory factor analysis was
conducted on Gaza sub-sample to test the construct validity of
Identity salience scale (ISS) and its sub-scales on different sub-
samples. SPSS statistical package data analysis software was
used to conduct all the statistical analyses.
The First Study: Results
Construct Validity
Exploratory principal components factor analysis was con-
ducted on the West Bank sub-sample (n = 438) using Eigen
value of 1.00 as criteria for extraction and with orthogonal rota-
tions. The analysis yielded two factors that represent the two
sub-scales. The two factors accounted for 51.65% of the vari-
ance. Table 1 represented the two orthogonally rotated factors.
Confirmatory factor analysis, conducted on a different set of
data that is comparable to West Bank data (Gaza data, N = 442),
confirmed the factor structure of the measure. The two factor
model of identity salience: Identity commitment, and identity
militancy has an adequate fit (Chi-square = 70.106, df = 32, P
= .000, CFI = .952, RMSEA = .052). The scale with its two
sub-scales has good construct validity. Figure 1 illustrates this
The Identity salience measure developed in this study found
to have alpha of .80, with alpha of .74 for commitment, .75 for
militancy sub-scales. Test-re-test reliability after three weeks
was .76.
Descriptive Results
The mean score for identity salience in the sample was Mean
= 58.29 and SD = 13.71 (range 13 - 90). Females (N = 197),
have significantly higher scores than males (N = 237), (females
Mean = 60.90, SD = 12.66, males Mean = 56.32, SD = 14.13, p
< .000). Females have significantly higher scores in identity
commitment than males (females M = 27.65, SD = 6.92, males
M = 26.27, SD = 7.77, p < .05), however there are no differ-
ences in their level of militancy (females M = 19.89 SD = 5.01,
males M = 19.89, SD = 5.09).
The ISS developed in the current study, and its two sub-
scales have adequate reliability and construct validity.
The Second Study
The goal of second study was to use the constructed identity
measure to check some of the trauma developmental theory
assumptions and check its predictive validity.
Hypothesis 1: Self-efficacy, autonomous functioning and
agency is at the core of identity commitment and militancy.
Hypothesis 2: Personal identity traumas and negative ap-
praisal of traumas will predict identity commitment, while col-
lective identity traumas and positive appraisal of traumas pre-
dict increase in militancy.
Hypothesis 3: Identity traumas, personal and collective pre-
dict reduced fear of death, and increased annihilation anxiety
Hypothesis 4: Annihilation anxiety, militancy and trauma
variables predict suicidality:
Hypothesis 5: Identity salience, annihilation anxiety (AA), as
well as fear of death mediates the effects of identity traumas on
suicidality, mental health variables, and militancy.
The Second Study: Method
The study used West Bank sub-sample (N = 438) according
to the procedures described in the first study. Using short meas-
ures approach help to limit the interview time to be manageable
to overcome the fatigue effects, to ensure the authenticity and
reliability of responses.
All measures used in the study, except fear of death measure,
were previously constructed in English. They subsequently
translated into Arabic by three bilingual mental health profess-
sionals who each individually translated the measures and then
Table 1.
Rotated component matrix for identity salience measure.
Items/Factors 1 2
Fear 26: I think a lot about the destiny of my group to which I belong. .174 .183
Fear 22: I feel personally threatened because of criminal acts committed against me or my group. .710 –.165
Fear 21: Sometimes I wish to die or to kill somebody before some one from my group get hurt or die (by other groups). .619 .199
Fear 23: When my religion or my ethnic or cultural or national group gets threatened, their importance comes before the importance of my family..571 .341
Fear 24: When my religion or my ethnic or cultural or national group gets threatened, their importance comes before the importance of me. .538 .421
Fear 25: The idea that I cannot help my group bothers me a lot. .535 .389
Fear 19: The threat to my group made me stronger and more able to defend my group. .128 .836
Fear 20: The threat to my group made me stronger and more able to defend myself. .164 .772
Fear 17: I am ready to die for the honor of my group I belong to. .112 .639
Fear 16: I do not care of death when I have to defend my ethnic, national or religious group. .360 .382
Extraction method: principal component analysis. Rotation method: varimax with kaiser normalization.
Figure 1.
Confirmatory factor analysis of identity salience scale: the two-factor model (Gaza data).
met together to establish a consensus on the final version based
on the criteria of adequate cultural sensitivity and appropriate-
ness in measuring the construct of the instrument.. A fourth
mental health professional did the reverse translation. These
measures were pilot tested in focus groups.
Independent V ar iables Measures
Cumulative Trauma Scale and Its Sub-Scales
The measure includes 61 items. Each item describes ex-
tremely stressful event. The participant was asked to report if
he/she experienced it or not, how many times he have experi-
enced the event, at what age first time, and how much it af-
fected him positively or negatively on a scale from 0 to 7. The
measure provides us with general scales for two of cumulative
Trauma doses: Occurrence and frequency of happenings, two
appraisal sub-scales: negative and positive appraisal. It includes,
at this level, four sub-scales for each trauma type. Trauma types
include according to Kira’s taxonomy of trauma (Kira, 2001,
2004, Kira et al., 2008, 2011): Collective identity, personal
identity, attachment, interdependence, physical survival, and
self-actualization. The measure proved to have good reliability
and validity in previous two studies, one on clinical adult
population (n = 399) and the other on adolescent Iraqi refugees
and African Americans (n = 390) in US. For the purpose of this
study we focused on cumulative trauma, personal identity, and
collective identity traumas occurrence and their negative ap-
praisal. The cumulative trauma dose scale has alpha reliability
of .88 in the current study. Trauma type’s sub-scales have ade-
quate alphas that ranged from .68 to .90.
Potential Mediating and/or Moderating Var i able s
Identity Salience scale developed in the first study. The an-
swer of scale questions is based on 7-point Likert type scale
with 1 means completely disagrees and 7 absolutely agree.
High scores on the scale means higher group identity salience
and low scores means more personal identity salience. Based on
factor analysis, the measure has two sub-scales:
Identity commitment sub-scale: The measure is a 6-item
scale and measures the degree of commitment to the individual
national or ethnic group. It asks questions like “When my group
is threatened its interest come first before mine”.
Identity militancy sub-scale: The sub-scale has 4 items. It in-
cludes questions like “I am ready to die for the honor of my
group to which I belong to”
Fear of death and dying measure (12-item measure): The
measure was previously developed and tested in Hebrew and
Arabic languages in Israel. Fear of death and dying was meas-
ured by 12 items, such as “I am afraid of death” and “The
thought of being unable to do things for myself at the end of
life troubles me very much.” (Carmel, & Mutran (1997a). Each
item was measured by a five-point scale ranging from 1 = com-
pletely disagree to 5 = completely agree. According to the re-
sults reported by Carmel and Mutran (1997b) and Wemer and
Carmel (2001b), two indices, one for fear of dying and one for
fear of death, were found. Both factors had an adequate internal
validity: Cronbach’s alpha = .80 for the six items in the fear of
death factor and Cronbach’s alpha = .81 for the six items of the
fear of dying factor. The final score for each factor is the aver-
age of the answers to the relevant items. The higher the score,
the greater is the participant's fear of death or/and dying. In our
study we find the same two factors, however, to accurately
describe what the scale is measuring we decided to re-label the
fear of dying as fear of loss of functioning and independence in
old age, while the first scale accurately describe the fear of
actual death. It has alpha of .80 in current study.
Dependent Variable Measures
Annihilation anxiety measure: The measure is based on the
assumption that there are two main sources of the emergence of
annihilation anxiety, personal identity and collective identity
survival threats (traumas). The 3-item scale have been used
before on Iraqi refugees in Michigan and found to have good
reliability (alpha. 93), divergent and predictive validity (Tem-
plin, Kira et al., 2006). It has an alpha of .87 in the current
PTSD Measure (CAPS-2) (18 items): This measure was de-
veloped by Blacke and his colleagues (Blacke et. al., 1990). It
is widely used to assess PTSD. It is a structured clinical inter-
view that assesses 17 symptoms rated on frequency and sever-
ity on a 5-point scale. CAPS demonstrated high reliability with
a range from 0.92 - 0.99 and showed good convergent and dis-
criminant validity (Weathers, Keane, & Davidson, 2001). In
this study, we used the frequency sub-scale of CAPS-2 that is
currently widely used in psychiatric literature. It has alpha
of .91 in the current study.
CES-D Depression Measure: Center for Epidemiologic stud-
ies-Depression mood scale is a 20 item scale (Radloff, 1977).
Each item is assessed on a 4-point scale and reflects the fre-
quency that each symptom is experienced (0 = none of the time,
3 = all of the time). Adequate reliability and validity have been
reported for the CES-D (Orme, Reis, & Herz, 1986). A cutoff
score of 16 is commonly used for the CES-D to indicate a
need for further assessment of the presence of MDD (Radloff,
1977). High internal consistency reliability results (ranging
from .85 to .92) have been found for the CES-D among various
age, sex, geographic, and racial-ethnic subgroups. Validation
studies have found that the CES-D has good convergent valid-
ity, discriminant validity (Himmelfarb, & Murrell, 1983), and
sensitivity and specificity (Mulrow et al., 1995). The Arabic
version of the measure has been used previously on Iraqi refu-
gees in Michigan, and found to have good reliability (alpha
= .92), and predictive validity. It has alpha of .89 in the current
study (e.g., Kira et al., 2011).
DASS-A General Anxiety DASS-A: Anxiety Measure (14
items): DASS is a 42-item scale developed by Lovibond and
Lovibond, 1995, and includes three sub-scales that measure
depression, anxiety, and stress. According to Antony, Bieling,
Cox, Enns, and Swinson, 1998, DASS may hold more promise
for distinguishing between anxiety and depression as well as
between physical arousal and symptoms of generalized anxiety.
DASS-A sub-scale measures anxiety, which is increasingly
used in different clinical and research settings. Different studies
suggest that DASS-A possess adequate convergent validity,
with reliability of .84 in non-clinical samples and .89, and 91 in
clinical samples (e.g., Lovibond, & Lovibond, 1995). Its au-
thors reported alpha reliability of .89 in clinical sample. ). The
Arabic version of the measure has been used previously on
Iraqi refugees in Michigan, and found to have good reliability
(alpha = .89), and predictive validity. It has alpha of .86 in the
current study.
CTD (Cumulative Trauma disorder) Cumulative Trauma
Disorders Measure CTD: The 15-item measure was developed
by Kira and associates in three studies on Iraqi refugees: Kira.
(2004), Kira, Clifford, & Al-haider, (2002), Kira, Clifford &
Al-Haider, (2003). It proved to have high reliability (ranged
from .85 and .98), construct, and convergent, divergent and
predictive validity. Test-retest reliability in a 6 week-interval
is .76. Different kinds of traumas, torture, and severity of tor-
ture, number of divorces and remarriage, and cumulative
trauma in general accounted for significant variance as predic-
tors of CTD symptoms. Exploratory factor analysis found that
the measure has four factors and four sub-scales: Executive
function deficits, suicidality, dissociation, and depression/
anxiety interface. Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed this
structure with comparative fit index of .99. The suicidality sub-
scale will be used especially to test some of our hypothesis.
Multiple regressions was utilized to test predictors of sui-
cidality, fear of death, militancy and annihilation anxiety con-
trolling for age, gender, family size, and grades.
Different plausible path models were tested to explore the
direct, and indirect effects of the independent variables using
structural equation model SEM (AMOS 7 software), (Arbuckle,
2006). Model fit indices were selected in accordance with sev-
eral recommendations and included the normed χ2 test statistic
(χ2/df), the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA)
and the comparative fit index (CFI). χ2/df values < 5.0 are con-
sidered acceptable; RMSEA values 0.05 indicate close fit,
values 0.05 to 0.08 indicate reasonable fit, and values >0.10
indicate poor fit . CFI values >0.95 indicate good fit (e.g., Kline,
2005; Hu, & Bentler, 1999). We used bootstrap (N = 200) with
bias-corrected confidence intervals to test the significance of
the direct and indirect effects of each variable in the model.
Bootstrapping is a computer-intensive re-sampling technique. It
involves generating bootstrap samples based on the original
observations. Bootstrapping is often used to get a better ap-
proximation of sampling distribution of a statistic than its theo-
retical distribution provides, especially when assumption of
normality may be violated. Bootstrapping is more robust mod-
ern statistics that are used to generate and to create a sampling
distribution, and this bootstrapped distribution is used to com-
pute p values, test hypotheses and generate confidence intervals
for direct and indirect effects (e.g., Erceg-Hurn, & Mirosevich,
The Second Study: Results
Hypothesis 1: Self-efficacy, autonomous functioning and
agency is at the core of identity commitment and militancy;
Fear of death, attachment trauma (e.g., abandonment by
mother) and achievement trauma (e.g., school failure) did not
predict either of the collective identity salience variables, how-
ever, fear of loss of functioning (fear of loss of autonomy, and
loss of efficacy and independence in old age) was the highest
predictor of both (Beta = .398. for CIC, and CIM, beta = .328).
Self-efficacy, autonomous functioning and agency concerns
seem to be at the core of identity commitment and militancy,
which confirm one of identity theory theory’s assumptions.
Hypothesis 2: Personal identity traumas predict identity
commitment, while collective identity traumas predict increase
in militancy.
Cumulative trauma dose, cumulative negative appraisal, per-
sonal identity traumas, Interdependence or secondary trauma
and its negative appraisal, and annihilation anxiety predicted
increase in identity commitment but not militancy. The Cumu-
lative positive appraisal of traumas and collective identity
traumas, family and survival traumas, PTSD, anxiety, and de-
pression predicted increase in both identity commitment and
militancy. However, positive appraisal of collective identity
trauma, and of survival traumas, predicted militancy, but did
not predict identity commitment (see Table 2).
Hypothesis 3 and 4: Predictors of Suicidality fear of death
and Annihilation Anxiety
Fear of death with its two sub-scales was not significant pre-
dictor of suicidality. Annihilation anxiety was the strong pre-
dictor (beta = .30). Collective identity commitment was not
significant predictor of suicidality, however, collective identity
militancy (beta = .11) was. Cumulative trauma variables pre-
dicted suicidality (beta = .27). Attachment traumas (beta = .13),
personal identity trauma (beta = .18), collective identity trau-
mas (.17), family traumas (beta = .17), survival traumas (beta =
20), interdependence trauma (beta = .25), and cumulative stress
trauma (beta = .26) all predicted suicidality.
Identity traumas, personal and collective predicted reduced
fear of death, and increased annihilation anxiety (AA).
Hypothesis 5: Identity salience, annihilation anxiety (AA)
(fear of identity annihilation), as well as fear of death mediates
the effects of identity traumas on suicidality and militancy and
mental health variables.
Using Path analysis we tested the model of identity salience
in two conditions. The first condition was when the personal
identity trauma is the independent variable in the model. The
second condition was when the collective identity trauma is the
independent variable in the model. In the first model, increased
personal identity traumas predict direct increased in identity
commitment (identity salience) and decrease in fear of death
(mortality salience). Such traumas predict indirect increase in
AA, depression and suicidality. Increased identity salience
predicts directly an increase in AA and decrease in militancy. It
predicts indirectly an increase in general anxiety, depression,
PTSD, and suicidality. Increased AA predicts, directly, in-
creased mortality salience, and predicts both direct and indirect
increase in militancy, general anxiety, depression and suicide. It
predicts indirect increase in PTSD. Increased mortality salience
Table 2.
Multiple Regression of the effects of different variables on Identity Commitment and Militancy.
Collective Identity Commitment Collective Identity Militancy
Dependent variables (a) B SE Beta P B SE Beta P
PTSD Scale .063 .020 .164 .002 .049 .014 .185 .000
CTD Scale .079 .033 .127 .016 .032 .023 .074 .164
CTD Depression/anxiety syndrome .323 .122 .140 .009 .183 .086 .115 .033
CTD Suicidality sub-scale (items 10, 12) .309 .156 .102 .047 .042 .109 .020 .699
CTD Executive function deficits sub–scale .517 .163 .164 .002 .248 .114 .115 .031
CTD Dissociation/psychoses sub-scale .271 .118 .118 .023 .026 .083 .017 .754
Fear of death sub-scale .344 .357 .052 .335 .170 .249 .037 .495
Fear of loss of functioning (autonomy and efficacy) at old age b sub-scale2.644.329 .398 .000 1.493 .236 .328 .000
DASS-Anxiety Scale .137 .059 .121 .020 .099 .041 .127 .016
Psychological anxiety-Sub-scale .571 .353 .084 .106 .235 .247 .050 .342
Physical anxiety sub-scale .869 .340 .131 .011 .595 .237 .130 .012
CES-D Depression Scale .073 .033 .116 .027 .057 .023 .132 .013
Annihilation anxiety scale .351 .126 .142 .006 –.001 .089 –.001.989
Cumulative dose of trauma occurrence .282 .069 .208 .000 .096 .049 .103 .052
The negative appraisal of trauma dose .131 .055 .123 .016 .066 .038 .089 .086
The positive appraisal of trauma dose .490 .210 .119 .020 .420 .146 .149 .004
Attachment traumas occurrence sub-scale 1.116.626 .091 .076 .150 .438 .018 .732
Personal identity trauma occurrence .981 .391 .130 .013 .331 .274 .064 .229
Negative appraisal of personal identity traumas .598 .297 .103 .044 .134 .208 .034 .520
Positive appraisal of personal identity traumas 2.017.869 .119 .021 1.312 .607 .112 .031
The frequency of collective identity traumatic events .514 .156 .170 .001 .231 .110 .111 .036
Negative appraisal of collective identity traumatic stressors .575 .213 .141 .007 .343 .149 .122 .022
Positive appraisal of collective identity traumatic events 1.068.973 .056 .273 1.667 .674 .128 .014
the occurrence of family traumatic stressors 1.555.356 .219 .000 .525 .253 .108 .039
the occurrence of survival traumas .635 .177 .188 .000 .281 .124 .121 .025
The negative appraisal of survival traumatic stressors .391 .127 .157 .002 .153 .089 .090 .086
The positive appraisal of survival traumatic events .674 .468 .074 .150 .644 .325 .103 .048
Interdependence or secondary trauma occurrence .630 .183 .175 .001 .205 .129 .083 .112
The negative appraisal of secondary trauma events .431 .143 .153 .003 .136 .101 .070 .179
The positive appraisal of secondary traumas .774 .467 .084 .099 .969 .323 .154 .003
Achievement trauma occurrence (School failures) 1.4052.718.027 .605 –.562 1.895 –.016.767
(a) The results have been obtained after age, gender, education; income and family size have been controlled statistically.
directly predicts increased militancy and general anxiety. It
predicts direct and indirect increase in PTSD, and indirect in-
crease in depression and suicidality. Increased militancy pre-
dicts direct decrease in depression, and indirect decrease in
PTSD and suicidality. The model has good fit with Chi Square
= 22.546, df. = 15, p = .094, CFI = .989, RMSEA = .034. Fig-
ure 2 illustrates the model and Table 3 describes the decompo-
sition of standardized direct, indirect and total effects of every
independent variable in the model and its significance.
The second model, has adequate fit (Chi Square = 21.808,
Figure 2.
Path model for the effects of personal identity trauma on suicidality and militancy.
Table 3.
Decomposition of standardized effects for a model of the effects of personal identity trauma on suicidality and militancy.
Endogenous Variables
Predictive Variables Collective Identity CommitmentAA Death fearMilitancyA Depression PTSD Suicide
Personal Iden tity Traum a (CIT)
Direct Effects .116* .108 –.114** .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Indirect Effects .000 .019* .028* –.042+ .037+ .042** .018 .038*
Total Effects .116* .127* –.086* –.042+ .037+ .042** .018 .038*
Identity Salience (Commitment)
Direct Effects .000 .163** .000 –.395* .093+ .000 .000 .000
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .036** .036** .021** .138** .123** .088**
Total Effects .000 .163** .036** –.374** .145** .138** .123** .088**
Annihilation Anxiety (A A)
Direct Effects .000 .000 .219** .103* .293** .154** .000 .176**
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .000 .023** .027* .143** .214** .121**
Total Effects .000 .000 .219** .127** .320** .297** .214** .297**
Fear of Death
Direct Effects .000 .000 .000 .107** .125* .000 .115* .000
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 .049* .055* 038*
Total Effects .000 .000 .000 .107** .125* .049* .170* .038**
Direct Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 –.112** –.076+ .000
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 –.025** –.048**
Total Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 –.112** –.101** –.048**
Squared Multiple Correlations .013 .042 .054 .166 .135 .326 .365 .230
+p < .10 (close top significance) *p < .05. **p < .01.
df. = 16, p = .149, CFI = .992, RMSEA = .029), In the second
model increased collective identity traumatic events predict,
directly, increased identity commitment (identity salience) and
increased AA, and predict, indirectly, increase in fear of death
(mortality salience), general anxiety, depression, PTSD, and
suicidality. Increased identity salience, in this model, directly
predicts increased AA, and predicts, indirectly, increased mor-
tality salience. It also predicts decrease in militancy, and indi-
rectly, predict increase in general anxiety, depression, PTSD
and suicidality. Increased AA predicts direct increase in fear of
death (mortality salience), and predict direct and indirect in-
crease in militancy, general anxiety, depression and suicidality.
It predicts, indirectly, PTSD. Increased fear of death (mortality
salience) predicts direct increase in militancy and general anxi-
ety. It predicts directly and indirectly PTSD. It predicts indi-
rectly increased depression and suicidality. Increased militancy,
as in the first model, predicts direct decrease in depression, and
indirect decrease in PTSD and suicidality. Militancy plays an
effective role as a coping mechanism to lower increased PTSD,
depression and anxiety resulting from high traumatic events,
personal and collective, as it predicts decrease in such symp-
In both path models, increased general anxiety predicts direct
increase in depression and direct and indirect increase in PTSD,
and indirect increase in suicidality. Increased depression pre-
dicts direct increase in PTSD, and direct and indirect increase
in suicidality. Increased PTSD directly predicts suicidality.
Table 4 describes the decomposition of standardized direct,
indirect and total effects of every variable and its significance
in the model.
Alternative models: Care must be taken when making causal
inferences from cross-sectional data. The theoretical argument
for the proposed models is strong and the model fitted the data
well; however, there are always alternative models (MacCallum,
& Austin, 2000). We considered several alternative models in
which we changed the order of the, mediators, and eliminate
identity salience and fear of death alternatively. In the alterna-
tive models (AM), with PIT as predictor we eliminate fear of
death from the mediator variables, the model fit improved,
when identity salience was removed, the model fit get worse,
when we replaced interchangeably AA with PTSD, Depression
and anxiety, as a mediating variables, the model fit get worse.
In the alternative models with CIT as predictor, we eliminate
fear of death from the mediator variables, the model fit stayed
almost the same, when identity salience was removed, the
model fit get worse, when we replaced interchangeably AA
with PTSD, Depression and anxiety, as a mediating variables,
the model fit get worse (see Table 5). The results highlighted
the importance of adding identity salience as mediating variable
to explain suicidality and militancy.
The results generally indicate adequate reliability, construct
and predictive validity for the identity salience measure and its
two sub-scales that have been developed. The reliability of the
other measures used was adequate in the current data. It seems
that identity commitment and identity militancy represent re-
lated but unique concepts. Identity commitment is more rele-
vant to personal identity salience, while identity militancy is
another important identity dimension that is more relevant to
group and political dynamics.
The findings generally suggest that identity salience, per-
sonal and collective, are important and can be strong explana-
tory variable that contribute to explaining the dynamics of iden-
tity and its development. Identity salience, personal and collec-
tive is another dimension of adolescent and adult development.
The results generally fit the predictions of TDT which gives
the scale an adequate predictive validity. Identity traumas are
strong causal variables in predicting identity fears, commitment
and militancy. Identity trauma, personal and collective pre-
dicted increased identity commitment (identity salience), and
increased suicidality. Personal identity trauma activated identity
salience and deactivated mortality salience (decreased fear of
death) increasing the suicidality and to some degree militancy.
However, contrary to the TDT theory’s predictions, AA did not
decrease fear of death; it actually increased it in both models.
Fear of identity loss increased fear of death. However, personal
Table 4.
Decomposition of standardized effects for the model of collective identity trauma on suicidality and militancy.
Endogenous Variables
Predictive Variables Identity Salience AA Death fearMilitancy A Depression PTSD Suicide
Collective Identity Trauma (CIT)
Direct Effects .191** .352** .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Indirect Effects .000 .021* .076** –.029 .136** .128** .096** .118**
Total Effects .191** .373** .076** –.029 .136** .128** .096** .118**
Identity Salience (Commitment)
Direct Effects .000 .108* .000 –.395* .093+ .000 .000 .000
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .022* .014* .034* .122** .111** .072**
Total Effects .000 .108* .022* –.382* .127* .122** .111** .072**
Annihilation Anxiety (A A)
Direct Effects .000 .000 .204** .104* .293** .154** .000 .176**
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .000 .022** .026* .142** .212** .121**
Total Effects .000 .000 .204** .125** .318** .296** .212** .297**
Fear of Death
Direct Effects .000 .000 .000 .107** .125* .000 .115* .000
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 .049* .055* .038*
Total Effects .000 .000 .000 .107** .125* .049* .170* .038*
Direct Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 –.112** –.076 .000
Indirect Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 –.025** –.048**
Total Effects .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 –.112** –.101** –.048**
Squared Multiple Correlations .036 .150 .042 .166 .135 .326 .365 .230
Table 5.
Alternative models (AM) for the effects on Personal Identity Traumas (PIT), and Collective Identity Traumas (CIT), on suicidality and militancy.
Predictor variable(s) Mediating variables Outcome variables Model Fit
AM1 PIT Identity salience and fear of death Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, anxietyχ2 = 22.546, df = 15, p = .094, CFI = .989, RMSEA = .034 (Chosen)
AM2 PIT Identity, salience variables Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, anxietyχ2 = 16.547, df. = 12, p = .167, RMSEA = .029 (BEST FIT)
AM3 PIT Fear of death Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, anxietyχ2 = 27.564, df = 7, p = .000, CFI = .957, RMSEA = .082
AM4 PIT General anxiety
Fear of death
Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, AAχ2 = 107.147, df. = 15, p = .000., CFI = .861, RMSEA = .119
Fear of death
Suicidality, Militancy
AA depression, Anxietyχ2 = 30.777, df. = 15, p = .009, CFI = .976, RMSEA = .049
AM6 PIT Depression
Fear of death
Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, AA χ2 = 61.795, df. = 15, p = .000, CFI = .930, RMSEA = .084
AM1 CIT Identity salience and fear of death Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, anxietyχ2 = 21.808, df. = 16, p = .149, CFI = .992, RMSEA = .029 (Chosen)
AM2 CIT Identity salience variables Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, anxietyχ2 = 18.972, df. = 12, p=.089, CFI = .990, RMSEA = .036
AM3 CIT Fear of death Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, anxietyχ2 = 14.949, df = 6, p = .021,CFI = .981, RMSEA = .058
AM4 CIT General anxiety
Fear of death
Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, depression, AAχ2 = 153.402, df. = 16, p = .000, CFI = .809, RMSEA = .140
Fear of death
Suicidality, Militancy
AA depression, Anxietyχ2 = 85.737, df. = 16, p = .000, CFI = .903, RMSEA = .100
AM6 CIT Depression
Fear of death
Suicidality, Militancy
PTSD, AA χ2 = 119.380, df. = 16, p = .000, CFI = .856, RMSEA = .122
identity trauma directly reduced fear of death. Further, as the
theory anticipated, AA (fear of identity loss) predicted directly
an increase in militancy and suicidality, while fear of death
indirectly predicted suicidality, but not militancy.
Clinical suicidality is separate syndrome different from
readiness to die for the group (militancy) and is more present in
the case of personal identity trauma. Suicidality is mediated by
AA (fear of identity loss) and associated with depression, anxi-
ety and PTSD.
One of the important findings is that increased militancy, in
both models, predicted direct decrease in depression, and indi-
rect decrease in PTSD and suicidality. Militancy seems to play
a positive role as a coping mechanism to lower increased
PTSD, depression and anxiety resulting from high personal and
collective identity trauma load. In other words, militancy plays
as a buffer against increase in AA, in fear of death and associ-
ated mental health syndromes. Militancy, ready to die for the
group, seems to be opposite to clinical suicidality. Another
important finding is that while both AA (fear of identity loss)
and fear of death predicted increased militancy, identity com-
mitment predicted decreased militancy. Identity commitment,
in political conflicts, may act as positive factor after all.
Another important findings is that fear of loss of functioning,
(fear of loss of independence and loss of self-efficacy, i.e., due
to age) was the strongest predictor of identity salience, con-
firming, at least partly, the assumption that self-efficacy and
agency, that have been acquired through the individuation de-
velopmental processes, buffers against fear of identity loss.
Fear of identity loss (annihilation anxiety) predicted identity
commitment, and decreased militancy
Why people, who usually fear death and strive to live, com-
mit suicide or sacrifice their lives for their groups? Our findings
derived from developmental theories, provide some answers
and more questions. Alternative theories, other than TDT, pro-
vide different explanations and hypotheses. One of the other
strong theories proposed to explain the terror originated in the
core of the existential condition of the individual’s inherent
death threats, is Terror Management Theory (TMT). According
to (TMT) (e.g., Becker, 1962, 1973; Pyszczynski, Greenberg, &
Solomon, 1999), a great deal of human behavior can be under-
stood as attempts to gain psychological equanimity in the face
of awareness of inevitability of death. In recent development of
the theory (e.g., Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, &
Orneck, 2009), TMT added that humans struggle for a sense of
identity and significance in the world, (partly), as a way to pro-
tect themselves against death and its anxieties. This search for
validation and value, sometimes, takes the form of expanding
oneself in a larger beyond, such as one’s group or nation. These
serve as avenues for the person to find meaning and value in a
vaster scheme that will not be shattered by one’s own death.
As such, the pursuit of symbolic immortality can assuage fear
of death. Mortality reminders, under certain conditions, found
to make participants express greater willingness to sacrifice
their selves for their country (Routledge, & Arndt, 2008).
Navarrete, Kurzban, Fessler, and Kirkpatrick, 2004, provide
different evolutionary-based argument as well as experimental
evidence that question the primacy of mortality salience causal-
ity hypotheses. Marshaling social support was a reliably adap-
tive need to deal with adversities in human evolutionary path by
forming social network and coalitions to improve group sur-
vival potential. In-group affliliative sentiments are necessary to
obtain needed social support and can have strong explanatory
power for the same behaviors that are believed to be due to
mortality reminders (see also, Kirkpatrick, & Navarrete, 2006).
While developmentally based TDT assumptions, as well as
evolutionary-based coalition psychology assumptions can be
reconciled theoretically within the robust TMT framework, the
primacy of identity salience contrasted with the primacy of
mortality salience, or the primacy of affliliative sentiments
salience, should be resolved in subsequent controlled or longi-
tudinal studies.
Implications of the Results
While the results have theoretical implications for individua-
tion and identity development in social and political context, we
need to brainstorm and utilize the current findings to develop
different ways to reduce suffering in ways other than becoming
a militant with increased violence and terrorist suicide, or com-
mitting clinical suicide. The finding about the role of militancy
in alleviating mental health suffering in those traumatized ado-
lescents is important. Providing effective multi-systemic and
ecological interventions and supports to children, adolescents
and adults, in addition to conflict resolution and reconciliation
efforts, may reduce militancy as well as clinical suicide. Further,
the finding that identity commitment actually reduces militancy
is equally important. Interventions that enhance positive iden-
tity development in youth should prevent increased militancy
and suicidality. Identity commitment, in itself can be positive
indicator; fear of identity loss due to different events can be
alleviated by focusing on positive identity development for
those affected. Reducing collective traumatic events and pre-
venting its cross-generational transmission can reduce suffering
and enhance future peace and conflict resolution. Devising
interventions that interrupt and stop the cycle of cross-genera-
tional transmission of such intractable collective identity trau-
mas is another important task. Such brainstorming can yield
some successful strategies to alleviate pain and suffering of the
groups. Current study can be a one step toward such scientific
analysis that can set progress toward peace and identity conflict
resolution and reduce or eliminate terror.
This pilot study has its definite limitations. The current
cross-sectional study does not explicitly draw causality from
the results. We realize the limitation of causal analysis with
SEM (e.g., Bullock, Harlow, & Mulaik, 1994; Rosenbaum,
2002). Unobserved confounding variables can distort statistical
causal inference. These may be impossible to eliminate their
effects in observational studies. However, there are cases where
only observational data are available and one cannot conduct
any experimental studies. Experimental studies, e.g., using
death reminders, may not simulate the real effects of actual
personal and collective identity traumas for such populations.
For these cases, SEM is powerful tools for causal statistical
causal inference, although one has to pay very careful attention
to confounding variables. One caution should be made here.
We must not assert that causation is established based solely on
the results derived from SEM but should make substantive
arguments as well.
Future replications on different populations and longitudinal
studies could reach such inference of causality. Nevertheless,
the findings of our study provide preliminary evidence of the
important associations between identity variables and increased
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