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Propensity for Aggression and Associated Patterns of Youth Involvement: A Mixed-Methods Study

  • Author(s): Gendron, Brian Patrick
  • Advisor(s): Chao, Ruth
  • et al.

The current study utilized quantitative and qualitative methods to build upon social cognitive research of anti-social behavior, by assessing propensity to fight, or the belief that aggression would be a likely choice of behavior in various social situations. The study addressed systemic factors considered proximal and distal to the child, as well interactions among the two, in determining the relationship between propensity and actual perpetration (in terms of general aggression, and specific bullying behavior). Furthermore, a cross-sectional design was utilized to investigate school level differences in associations between the aforementioned social cognitive factors and actual involvement in aggressive behavior, among elementary and middle school participants.

Quantitative self-report data was collected from fifth- and sixth-grade elementary school students (n = 426) and seventh- and eighth-grade middle school students (n = 322). Six focus groups were conducted among separate middle school participants. Four of the interviews were stratified by gender, and two were comprised of male and female participants.

Results indicated that increased aggression and bullying perpetration, as well as victimization, were all significantly associated with higher propensity to fight. Moreover, self-esteem moderated the relationship between victimization and propensity to fight, such that as levels of victimization increased, those with lower self-esteem reported significantly lower propensity to fight compared to those with higher self-esteem. Males reported higher propensity for physical aggression compared to females, whereas the opposite was true in propensity for relational aggression. Additionally, males were more likely to report using physical bullying, whereas no differences were found for reports of any other form of perpetration.

Using school socio-economic status (SES) as a proxy for context, it was found that lower levels of school SES were associated with higher levels of physical bullying perpetration. Developmental analyses revealed no significant differences in propensity for physical aggression, but middle school students reported significantly higher propensity for relational aggression against a female. Results of focus group interviews added support to the quantitative findings, in addition to producing auxiliary, yet related themes. The findings suggest that involvement in youth aggression is complex and associated with intricate patterns of information processing; the most effective interventions would be those that target various factors within the bullying and aggression paradigm.

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