An Examination of Multifaceted Predictors and Mechanisms of Risk Associated with AdolescentAggression

Clifford, Meghan, Clinical Psychology - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Clifford, Meghan, Education Graduate, University of Virginia
Clifford, Meghan, Education Graduate, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores key risk factors associated with adolescent aggression in an effort to better understand its complex and multifaceted developmental trajectory. Environmental factors and social-cognitive processes are investigated as distinct and likely intertwined constructs associated with aggressive behavior in adolescence. Through the examination of risk across both environmental and social-cognitive domains, evidence drawn from this dissertation has implications for future prevention and intervention programming aimed at reducing youth aggression. This dissertation proposal follows the three-manuscript option outlined in the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development’s dissertation guidelines. In addition to the three manuscripts, the dissertation includes a conceptual linking statement explaining the underlying theoretical framework used to develop the research questions of each manuscript.
The first paper included in the dissertation is a narrative and conceptual literature review entitled, “Both/And: Tier 2 Interventions with Transdiagnostic Utility in Addressing Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Youth” (Clifford et al., 2020). This paper emphasizes the shared set of social-emotional difficulties and core intervention components across school-based interventions targeting both internalizing and externalizing disorders, which is used to promote transdiagnostic utility through global symptom reduction. The second dissertation paper is an empirical study entitled, “Emotion Encoding and Interpretation Associated with Aggression in Early Adolescents: A Focus on Emotion Recognition and Affective Theory of Mind” (Clifford et al., 2021). Key findings indicated that specific emotion recognition errors, but not affective theory of mind abilities, were uniquely associated with aggression and likely contribute to biased emotion encoding among aggressive youth. The third paper of the dissertation is an empirical study entitled, “Patterns of Adverse Childhood Experiences Associated with Externalizing Problems: A Latent Class Analysis.” This paper sought to identify patterns of exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among participants in the National Study of Adolescent Health and explore the extent to which these patterns were differentially related to various externalizing problems during adolescence and young adulthood. This dissertation first examines whether the individual ACE indicators were significant and direct correlates of various externalizing problems. Subsequent latent class analyses yielded a 3-class model of qualitatively distinct ACE exposure classes: a Low ACEs Class, a Moderate Multiple ACEs Class, and a Hostile Maltreatment Class. Class membership was functionally related to the probability of adolescent and young adult endorsement of externalizing problems. By integrating the findings of these three manuscripts and considering interrelated theoretical underpinnings, this dissertation advances our understanding of the contributions of environmental risk and social-cognitive processing; it also identifies some potential mechanisms through which adolescent aggression develops over the life course.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
adolescence, aggression, adversity, social-cognition
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