Normalized Aggression: Exploring the Role of Normalized Beliefs in the Desensitization of Violence Exposed Youth

Richardson, Malachi, Clinical Psychology - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Tolan, Patrick, CU-Human Svcs, University of Virginia

Exposure to community violence (ECV) has been associated with a host of maladaptive outcomes for youth from low-income, inner city communities including increased aggression and psychopathology symptoms such as depression. Several studies show discrepancies in the relation between exposure to violence and aggression and depression. One common finding is that ECV has a linear relation to aggression but a curvilinear or plateauing relation to depression. The Pathologic Adaptation Model has been offered as one possible explanation for this process, proposing that ECV causes the development of beliefs about aggression as common and acceptable. These normalized beliefs, in turn, lead to increased aggression due to desensitization. At the same time, desensitization blunts emotional turmoil related to such exposure, plateauing or even decreasing the level of depressive symptoms as exposure increases. This explanation has mixed support in the existing literature and has few studies including consideration of the theorized normalizing process, pointing to the need to test the theorized mediational processes (e.g. the development of normalized beliefs). As well, studies have tended to focus on males or if including females, limited attention to potential variation by gender. The present study utilizes a sample of 429 adolescent youth (265 males, 164 females) drawn from four urban communities with elevated rates of poverty, to test whether the relation between exposure to violence and ratings of aggression and depression is mediated by levels of normative beliefs about aggression and is consistent across gender. Results indicated that while normative beliefs about violence approached significance in the relation between exposure to violence and aggression for females; there was no evidence of mediation for male participants.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Violence , Aggression, Depression, Violence Exposure, Desensitization, Community Violence
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