Theses Doctoral

The Association Between Violence Exposure and Aggression and Anxiety: The Role of Peer Relationships in Adaptation for Middle School Students

Ward, Anna Marcolla

The extent and consequences of exposure to violence on child and adolescent adjustment are well documented. Empirical studies have focused on identifying the risk and protective factors that may increase or decrease the likelihood of poor outcomes. In terms of resilience and adaptation, some adolescents appear to be capable of coping with the stress of exposure to violence, while others are not. Coping with violence exposure requires both internal and external resources that ultimately determine how adaptive or maladaptive the outcome will be. Given that adolescence is a time during which peer relationships become increasingly important, they may serve as external coping resources. The present study hypothesizes that various facets of peer relationships (i.e., friends' behavior, friendship reciprocity, peer acceptance, and peer intimacy/closeness) will have an effect on the relationship between community and family violence exposure and psychological and behavioral outcomes, specifically, aggression and anxiety, as both have been consistently and empirically linked to violence exposure. Data were collected from 667 middle school students, followed from 6th grade to 8th grade, living in a high crime school district in New York City. Data were also collected from their parents and classmates. Prosocial friends and their influence on the cognitive processing of social information, leading to fewer hostile attributions, were expected to help adolescents cope by minimizing the negative impact of exposure to violence on aggression. Further, reciprocated friendships, peer acceptance, and close, intimate friends were expected to lessen the negative impact of exposure to violence on anxiety. Controlling for gender, six models were tested positing separate moderating and mediating effects of the aforementioned variables on the associations between violence exposure and aggression and also anxiety. Friends' Antisocial behavior was found to mediate the relationship between violence exposure and later aggressive behavior. Hostile attribution alone did not explain the relationship between violence exposure and later aggression, but when Friends' Antisocial behavior and hostile attribution were examined in the same model, together they mediated the association between violence exposure and later aggressive behavior. Of note, Friends' Antisocial behavior was a stronger predictor than hostile attribution. Greater social acceptance moderated the relationship between violence exposure and later reported anxiety when violence exposure was low. Peer intimacy/closeness, while demonstrating a direct effect on anxiety, failed to moderate the association between violence exposure and anxiety. Finally, Friends' Prosocial Behavior could not be tested for whether it buffered the effect of violence exposure on later aggression because the data did not meet criteria for performing tests of moderation. However, Friends' Prosocial behavior was related to other study variables in the expected direction; it was significantly negatively associated with violence exposure, hostile attribution bias, and Friends' Antisocial behavior. Therefore the emphasis on friends' prosocial behavior in current prevention efforts to reduce aggressive outcomes is warranted.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
School Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Brassard, Marla Ruth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 23, 2012