Insecure attachment and deviant social information processing as mechanisms associated with violent behavior in adolescent offenders

Gurevich, Laura Ann, Department of Human Services, University of Virginia
Cornell, Dewey, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia
Seldon-Keller, Adrienne, University of Virginia
Reeve, Ronald, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia
Sheras, Peter, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia

The present study attempted to increase our understanding of juvenile violence by investigating the roles of two mechanisms theorized to underlie patterns of aggressive behavior: a history of problematic relationships with primary caregivers and biases in the cognitive processing of social situations. More specifically, the present study investigated the theory that delinquent youths with insecure attachments to their caregivers exhibit deficits in social information processing which in tum predispose them to behave aggressively. Participants included 108 15 to 18 year old males incarcerated in two Virginia juvenile correctional centers. Deviant social information processing was assessed using a measure comprised of video-recorded vignettes depicting difficult peer situations common to adolescent males. Researchers interviewed the adolescents to assess hostile attributional bias, the aggressiveness of the solutions they generated, the likelihood that they would endorse aggressive acts, and their expectations regarding peer reactions to these solutions. Coding of the youths' responses completed by two independent raters demonstrated good internal reliability (average r = .92). The Adolescent Attachment Questionnaire served as a measure of the insecurity of an adolescent's attachment to his primary caregiver. Measures of violent behavior included history of convictions for violent offenses, history of violent incidents while incarcerated, and staff ratings of physical, reactive, and instrumental aggression.

Results indicated that deviant social information processing did not mediate the relation between insecure attachment and violent behavior; however, other expected relations among variables in this study were demonstrated. First, adolescent offenders receiving higher staff ratings of physical aggressiveness tended to generate more aggressive solutions to the video vignettes of ambiguous social situations. This result extends previous research findings indicating that aggressive children generate responses that are more aggressive and less prosociai than those of less aggressive peers. Second, adolescent offenders reporting more anger towards their attachment figure tended to anticipate positive interpersonal outcomes for aggressive solutions in the form of greater respect from peers. Overall, results of this investigation suggest the need for further refinement of the theory that social information processing deficits mediate the relation between insecure attachment and aggression.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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