Since previous research has found that individuals who are exposed to political violence and experience personal threat and posttraumatic distress might develop prejudicial and exclusionist attitudes toward outgroup members, the current study addressed such destructive dynamics in children by implementing a two-pronged approach that combines stress-reduction interventions with strategies for reducing stereotyping and discriminatory tendencies toward people with characteristics different from their own.
A teacher-delivered universal school-based program, ERASE-Stress-Pro-Social (ESPS), was designed for and implemented with Jewish Israeli students exposed to the 2008 Gaza War. Two hundred students from third to sixth grades were assigned to either 16 sessions of ESPS intervention (n = 99) or to a regular social skills (SS) program as a control group (n = 101). At two time points, they were assessed on posttraumatic symptomatology (PTS), anxiety, somatic complaints, and functional problems, as well as stereotyping and discriminatory tendencies toward White, Arab, and Ethiopian children. The time points were before the intervention and 2 months later. Elementary school students exposed to security threats and war exhibited significant levels of PTS distress as well as stereotyping and discriminatory tendencies toward Arab and Ethiopian children. Two months after the program ended, students in the ESPS group showed significant reduction on all measures compared to the SS group. Results show a strong link between PTS reduction and changes in attitudes toward Arabs. The ESPS program might help reduce PTS as well as prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory tendencies toward minorities in children exposed to political violence, thereby helping to preserve the democratic values and the delicate fabric of multicultural societies. (publisher abstract modified)