The Case for Measuring ‘Resilient Type’ Traits in Inuit Youth


Summary. The Inuit communities in the Alaskan regions of Northern Canada suffer from colonialization issues, such as corrosion of collectivistic values of family relations. Inuit youth’s well-being is depending on their cultural environment. Mental health problems, substance misuse, and high suicide rates are significant concerns. Resilience as a strength based approach to adapt to adversity is sought to be better understood to design culturally sensitive and therefore effective interventions. A newly developed psychometric instrument, based on the Big Five, could help to further optimize the targeting of Inuit youth according to their differences in related individual traits tendencies.

Inuit Cultural Context and Adverse Situations

If it were known what individual differences in personality influence personal coping behavior, interventions could be directed towards those likely to be unable to handle stressful situations effectively (Waaktaar & Torgersen, 2010). Confronted with detrimental effects from colonialization and the western-style culturally insensitive approaches to deal with (Morris & Crooks, 2015), Canada’s Aboriginal Inuit population is suffering from adverse social, cultural, and economic developments (Ferrazzi & Krupa, 2016). Most harm is caused by the corrosion of collectivistic values of family relationships as they continue to define the cultural environment necessary for Inuit’s well-being (Kral, Salusky, Inuksuk, Angutimarik, & Tulugardjuk, 2014). The Inuit youth suicide rate is up to ten times higher than that of Canada overall, what the Inuit ascribe to the destruction of their native culture (Kral et al., 2014). Whereas the direct link between colonialization and suicide rates is disputed, mood disorders and substance misuse (e.g., because of family disruption [Dell et al., 2011]) was more clearly identified as one of the multiple causes for suicide (Chachamovich et al., 2013).

Enculturation is the way a person feels in accord with the spirit and culture of its community (Winterowd, Montgomery, Stumblingbear, Harless, & Hicks, 2008). It provides for the indigenous resiliency factors of spirituality and kinship (Montgomery-Andersen, & Borup, 2012) that are found to be preventive of the increased mental health issues such as low self-esteem and depression in Inuit youth (Snowshoe, Crooks, Tremblay, Craig, & Hinson, 2015). According to Kelly, Fitzgerald, and Dooley (2017), “resilience is a process reflecting positive adaptation in the face of adversity” (p. 1). The Inuit notion of resilience grounds on a wealth of cultural traditions, language, and engagement that have resisted all difficulties (Kirmayer, Dandeneau, Marshall, Phillips, & Williamson, 2011).

Big Five / Five-Factor Model (FFM) of Personality Traits

While family and environment contribute to resiliency too (Kelly et al., 2017), individual differences as predictors of future outcomes are sought to be assessed. A suitably precise psychometric instrument should, at the same time, allow the integration of a broad range of criteria that are potentially important for the use in long-term community development (Morizot, 2014).  Supportive research evidence concentrates on a five-factor model (FFM) (Howell, & Zelenski, 2017) consisting of five mostly independent personality trait dimensions, i.e., extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience (McCrea & Costa, 1987). Importantly, both individualist (such as the non-Aboriginal Canadian population) and collectivist (i.e., the Inuit) cultures reveal, albeit with different scores, the Big Five traits (Reese et al., 2014). The Big Five construct could even be linked to neurobiological explanations (Rojas & Widiger, 2014). The psycholexical grouping rationale of the FFM has been confirmed by theories of personality psychology (Strus, Cieciuch, & Rowinski, 2014), e.g., by demonstrating the validity of personality trait scores on isolated real-life outcomes (Woods & Hampson, 2005). The Big Five was found to be able to depict the concept of resiliency as a personality aspect as accurately as specific resiliency measurement tools (Waaktaar & Torgersen, 2010). Lazaridou and Beka (2015) report that a resilient personality is characterized by high scores on all Big Five dimensions, given neuroticism is reverse-coded.

Development of an Enhanced Individual Differences Measure

Short Big Five measures do somewhat redundantly focus imagination and abstract thinking and are not probing for other types of openness-facets such as ‘openness to cultural diversity’ (Morizot, 2014) as it is expected to be especially important also for the Inuit changing cultural and social context. Similarly, the five personality trait dimensions should be added further items that are expected to contribute to increased conceptual breadth (generally a weakness of short-form measures [Morizot, 2014]). For example, resilience is expected to include abilities to respond to (adverse) environment factors (Waaktaar & Torgersen, 2010). Emotion regulation is an expected aspect of Inuit youth resilience too (Shaw, 2016) and can be included in the ‘extraversion’ dimension, together with sensation seeking that is a possible facet indicative of substance abuse risk (Morizot, 2014).



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  • I think it takes a lot strength to hold on to traditions of your cultural and adapt to a world with social media at the same time. I feel always sad, if I read about struggles young people have regarding their upbringing and all the things they want to explore for themselves. Although, I wasn’t brought up by a specific religion or cultural aspects, the moment I started to form my own opinions, different from my main care-takers, it was the moment I feel our ‘separation’ started. That doesn’t have to be an issue, all teens do, but there are cases I think it is important to know about your roots, but it is also important that the elderly let youngster decide for themselves if and how to implement the traditions.
    So, in spite of these research results, I sense that open communication and allowing the young Inuits to create modern variant of the ‘old’ traditions might help?

    • Thanks for your interesting thoughts, Patty. I agree. The Inuit culture relies a lot on the extended family/kinship as the main source of the meaning of life and resilience. Now that colonialization has disrupted these communities, especially children are left very vulnerable. As you mention too, I think it is the balance between being socially and traditionally rooted and having developed a healthy self-reliance and new/own way to live too. Personally, I would emphasize the latter point as much as possible.