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Social-Cognitive Mediators of the Link Between Social-Environmental Risk Factors and Aggression in Adolescence

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2004
24 pages
Two studies tested the hypothesis that exposure to certain social and environmental factors is linked to aggressive behavior, as these factors condition an individual's conceptions of self and others in the context of social interactions.
The first study examined associations among an individual's knowledge base, information-processing patterns, and aggressive behavior. Data were obtained from 125 older adolescents (19.9 average years) regarding their concepts of self and others, their processing of information in the context of relationships, aggression, and personality. Although the popular wisdom is that negative self-concepts are related to aggression (Baumeister et al., 1996), this study found that negative views of others had a stronger association with overt aggression. These negative views of others were spawned by the processing of negative social information regarding the targets of aggression. The second study examined the influence on adolescent aggression of exposure to community violence and social rejection by parents and peers. Data were collected from 184 suburban adolescents (average age 14.97) and their homeroom teachers. The data pertained to youths' social relationships, general knowledge bases, the processing of social information, and aggressive and violent behavior. Analyses based on structural equation modeling found that exposure to community violence along with parental and peer social rejection were related to aggressive behavior through the partial mediation of negative views of those who were targets of their aggression. Social rejection was more closely associated with negative concepts of others, which is consistent with attachment theory's focus on the link between patterns of social interaction and internal perceptions of self and others. Exposure to community violence was more closely related to the processing of biased social information, which is consistent with social learning theory. Witnessing violence tends to teach the witness that aggression is appropriate. The author concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for youth-violence prevention and intervention. 3 figures and 66 references

Date Published: October 1, 2004