Is identifying with a historically victimized group good or bad for your health? Transgenerational post-traumatic stress and collective victimization


Michael J. A. Wohl, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, B550 Loeb Building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 5B6.



An abundance of evidence suggests that the consequences of collective ingroup victimization can traverse generations, even among group members who are not direct descendants of victims. It nevertheless remains unclear why only some group members experience vicarious victimization. To examine the role of collective identification in the transmission of trauma across generations, we surveyed members of a Jewish community—including descendants of holocaust survivors and others who were not descendants of the holocaust survivors. Among non-descendants, Jewish identification was negatively associated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In contrast, among descendants, Jewish identification was positively associated with PTSD symptoms. Further, familial willingness to discuss the holocaust mediated the relationship between identification and PTSD symptoms. Additional analyses confirmed that these effects were specific to holocaust-related PTSD symptoms and not general anxiety or depression. These findings suggest that collective identity may both buffer and enhance the effects of collective victimization on mental health. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.