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Social Information Processing and Exposure to Political Violence: Relations to Maladaptive Behavior in Preschool Children

Final Report Summary - SIP IN ISRAEL (Social Information Processing and Exposure to Political Violence: Relations to Maladaptive Behavior in Preschool Children)

The project's main objective was to expand theoretical and practical understanding of the origins of maladjusted behaviors in children exposed to political violence by examining the links among levels of exposure to political violence, Social Information Processing patterns, and disruptive behavior in preschool children in Israel. I expected to find differences in children's social perceptions and behaviors as a function of their exposure to violence.
The project has begun in November 2010 with data collection starting in December 2011 and completed in July 2013. The total number of children participating in all data points of the project was 229. Of those, 84 were children living in the geographical area exposed to political violence; 101 were children living in a comparable area in terms of socioeconomic status but not exposed to political violence; and 44 were children exposed to violence at the home. All children were interviewed twice about their social perceptions, all mother-child dyads were observed in a free-play interaction twice to examine the emotional availability of the dyad, and all parents and preschool teachers completed questionnaires about children's behaviors and accomplishments twice. Parents also provided information about various sociodemographic characteristics of the family. This represents a highly robust methodological design which was allowed because of the support from the EU.
Although data analysis is still underway, initial analysis have shown that, as expected, exposure to political violence is connected to children's social perceptions and behaviors with children in the political exposure group exhibiting less competent social perceptions and behaviors. However, these links were moderated by the quality of the mother-child relationships. In other words, the effects of exposure to political violence on social perception and behaviors were shown only in exposed children whom their relationship with the mother was of low quality. Also as expected, children exposed to violence at the home fare much worse than children from normative homes living in politically tense areas. These children had views of other children as hostile and ill-intent and exhibit higher levels of socially disruptive behaviors in preschool than the two other groups.
Beyond their influence of important psychological theories such as social information theory and attachment theory, these results carry a potential to further the understanding of aspects of the psychological sources at the root of political conflicts in general, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Knowing that exposure to political violence affects children's social learning could facilitate the development of state-of-the-art intervention and prevention programs that may help children living under fire to better cope with the stresses of war and violence. In the much longer run, these types of interventions could help shape a generation that may be less resistant to solve the conflict in peaceful ways.