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• Threatening to throw something at or hit the child.
• Throwing, smashing, hitting, or kicking something.
Like physical aggression, verbal or symbolic aggression is commonly directed at
children and can contribute to “problems with aggression, delinquency, and interpersonal
relationships” on the part of the children (Vissing et al., 1991, p. 231). This relationship
holds even when the effects of other variables”such as physical aggression, age and
gender of the child, socioeconomic status, and psychosocial problems of the child”are
held constant. Moreover, parentsʼ use of verbal or symbolic aggression as part of their
parenting style is more highly associated with aggression in children than is physical
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 379

aggression. One possible explanation for the pernicious effects of verbal aggression on
children is that name calling and similar parental behaviors have implications for the
childʼs self-esteem, with children experiencing verbal aggression showing lower levels
of self-esteem (Ruth & Francoise, 1999).
Supporting evidence comes from a 22-year study of the relationship between the
parental behaviors of rejection, punishment, and low identi¬cation with their chil-
dren and aggression in children (Eron, Huesmann, & Zelli, 1991). This study suggests
that parental rejection and punitiveness are signi¬cantly correlated with aggression in
childhood and later in adulthood. Children whose parents rejected them at age 8, for
example, showed a greater tendency toward aggression as adults than nonrejected chil-
dren, and harsh parental punishment, particularly for girls, led to increased aggression.
Generally, parental rejection and punitiveness were found to have their most endur-
ing relationship with aggression if the rejection and punitiveness began before age 6.
Similar effects were reported with a sample of Dutch adolescents (Hale, Van Der Valk,
Engels, & Meeus, 2005). Hale et al. also found that parental rejection operates through
depression to produce aggression. That is, parental rejection contributes to adolescent
depression, which relates to elevated levels of aggression.
The picture, however, is quite complex. For example, rejected children tend to
behave in ways that lead parents to reject them (Eron et al., 1991). So, parental rejection
that is related to aggression later in life may be partly caused by the childʼs behavior”
a vicious cycle.
Exposure to high levels of family aggression also relates to aggression used in a wide
variety of relationships (Chermack & Walton, 1999; Murphy & Blumenthal, 2000). For
example, Chermack and Walton (1999) studied the relationship between family aggres-
sion (parent-to-parent aggression, parent-to-child aggression) and the use of aggression
in several types of relationships (dating, marital, etc.). They found that if participants
saw their parents behaving aggressively toward each other and were the recipients of
parental aggression themselves, the participants were more likely to use aggression in
their own dating relationships. Interestingly, general aggression related positively only to
being the actual target of parental aggression. Additionally, seeing oneʼs parents behave
aggressively also contributes to heightened feelings of psychological stress among both
men and women (Julian, McKenry, Gavazzi, & Law, 1999). However, the psychological
stress was most likely to be transformed into verbal or physical aggression among men
as opposed to women (Julian et al., 1999). Thus, exposure to aggression in the family
appears to in¬‚uence adult aggression through the arousal of negative psychological
symptoms. In any event, the evidence is clear: Exposure to family violence as a child
contributes signi¬cantly to aggression later in life.

Role Modeling of Aggressive Behavior
What is the link between parental aggression and child aggression? The most likely
explanation is role modeling. Whenever parents use physical or verbal aggression, they
are modeling that behavior for their children. This is a special case of observational
learning. Children observe their parents behaving aggressively; they also see that the
aggressive behavior works, because ultimately the children are controlled by it. Because
the behavior is reinforced, both parents and children are more likely to use aggression
again. The message sent to the child is loud and clear: You can get your way by using
physical or verbal aggression. Through these processes of learning, children develop
aggressive scripts (Eron et al., 1991), which organize and direct their aggressive behav-
ior in childhood and in adulthood.
Social Psychology
380


Child Abuse and Neglect
Parental discipline style is not the only family-related factor related to increases in aggres-
sion. Child abuse has also been linked to aggressive behavior later in life, especially
among children who also have intrinsic vulnerabilities, such as cognitive, psychiatric,
and neurological impairments (Lewis, Lovely, Yeager, & Della Femina, 1989). Research
shows that being abused or witnessing abuse is strongly related to highly violent behavior
patterns. But physical abuse is not the only kind of abuse that contributes to increased
aggressive behavior. Abused and neglected children are more likely to be arrested for
juvenile (26%) and adult (28.6%) violent criminal behavior compared to a nonabused,
nonneglected control group (16.8% and 21.1% arrest rates for juvenile and adult violent
crime, respectively; Widom, 1992). Children who were only neglected had a higher
arrest rate for violent crime (12.5%) than nonneglected children had (7.9%).
Being the victim of child abuse has another pernicious effect. Exposure to abusive
situations desensitizes one to the suffering of others. In one study (Main & George,
1985), for example, abused and nonabused children were exposed to a peer showing
distress. Nonabused children showed concern and empathy for the distressed peer.
Abused children showed a very different pattern. These children did not respond with
concern or empathy but rather with anger, including physical aggression. Thus, child
abuse and neglect are major contributors not only to aggressive behavior later in life
but also to an attitude of less caring for another personʼs suffering.

Family Disruption
Yet another family factor that contributes to aggressive behavior patterns is family
disruption”for example, disruption caused by an acrimonious divorce. Research shows
that disruption of the family is signi¬cantly related to higher rates of crime (Mednick,
Baker, & Carothers, 1990; Sampson, 1987). One study investigated the relationship
between several family variables, such as family income, male employment, and family
disruption (de¬ned as a female-headed household with children under age 18), and
homicide and robbery rates among blacks and whites (Sampson, 1987). The study found
that the single best predictor of African American homicide was family disruption.
A similar pattern emerged for robbery committed by blacks and whites. Family
disruption, which was strongly related to living under economically deprived condi-
tions, was found to have its greatest effect on juvenile crime, as opposed to adult crime.
It was found that, at least for robbery, the effects of family disruption cut across racial
boundaries. Family disruption was equally harmful to blacks and whites.
Another study looked at family disruption from a different perspective: the impact
of divorce on childrenʼs criminal behavior (Mednick et al., 1990). The study exam-
ined Danish families that had divorced but were stable after the divorce (the divorce
solved interpersonal problems between the parents); divorced but unstable after the
divorce (the divorce failed to resolve interpersonal problems between the parents); and
not divorced. The study showed the highest crime rates among adolescents and young
adults who came from a disruptive family situation. The crime rate for those whose
families divorced but still had signi¬cant con¬‚ict was substantially higher (65%) than
for those whose families divorced but were stable afterward (42%) or for families that
did not divorce (28%).
Clearly, an important contributor to aggression is the climate and structure of the
family in which a child grows up. Inept parenting, in the form of overreliance on phys-
ical or verbal punishment, increases aggression. Child abuse and neglect, as well as
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 381

family disruption, also play a role in the development of aggressive behavior patterns.
Children learn their aggressive behavior patterns early as a result of being in a family
environment that supports aggression. And, as we have seen, these early aggressive
behavior patterns are likely to continue into adolescence and adulthood.

The Role of Culture in Violent Behavior
In addition to the in¬‚uence of the immediate family on the socialization of aggression,
social psychologists have also investigated the role that culture plays. Cross-cultural
research (Bergeron & Schneider, 2005) suggests that aggression is less likely to be seen
in cultures that show the following characteristics:
1. Collectivist values
2. High levels of moral discipline
3. Egalitarian values
4. Low levels of avoiding uncertainty
5. Confucian values
There are also cultural differences with respect to the expression of verbal aggres-
sion through the use of different invectives (De Raad, Van Oudenhoven, & Hofstede,
2005). De Raad et al. found that invectives referring to social relationships (e.g., “son
of a whore,” “good for nothing”) were most common among Spanish participants.
Participants from the Netherlands seem to prefer invectives relating to the genital
region (e.g., “prick,” “scrotum cleaner”), and participants from Germany prefer invec-
tives targeting the anal region (e.g., “asshole”) and social inadequacy (e.g., “spastic”).
Participants from all three countries used references to abnormality to insult others.
Another cultural difference can be seen among different segments of culture in the
United States. Nisbett and his colleagues have been studying this issue by comparing
southern and northern regions of the United States. In a series of studies that include
examining homicide statistics (Nisbett, 1993), ¬eld experiments (Nisbett, Polly, & Lang,
1995), and laboratory experiments (Cohen, 1998), a clear trend toward greater violence
among southern than northern Americans emerges.
To what can we attribute the regional differences in violence? Nisbett (1993) sug-
gested that there are a variety of explanations for regional differences. These include
traditional explanations suggesting that the South has more poverty, higher temperatures,
and a history of slavery as well as the possibility that whites have imitated aggressive
behavior seen among the black population. Nisbett suggested that there is another more
plausible explanation for the regional differences observed. He hypothesized that in the
culture of honor An
South (and to some extent in the frontier West) a culture of honor has evolved in which
evolved culture in the southern
violence is both more widely accepted and practiced than in the North, where no such
and western United States in
culture exists. Nisbett suggested that this culture of honor arose because of the different
which violence is more widely
peoples who settled in the North and South in the 17th and 18th centuries. accepted and practiced than
The South was largely settled by people who came from herding economies in in the northern and eastern
Europe, most notably from borderlands of Scotland and Ireland (Nisbett, 1993). The United Stares, where no such
culture exists.
North, in contrast, was settled by Puritans, Quakers, and Dutch farmers, who developed
a more agriculturally based economy (Nisbett, 1993). According to Nisbett, violence
is more endemic to herding cultures, because it is important to be constantly vigilant
for theft of oneʼs livestock. It was important in these herding economies to respond to
any threat to oneʼs herd or grazing lands with suf¬cient force to drive away intruders
Social Psychology
382

or potential thieves. Nisbett maintains that from this herding economy arose the culture
of honor that persists in the South to this day. This culture of honor primes southern
individuals for greater violence than their northern counterparts.
Is there any evidence to support the supposition that individuals from a herding
economy are more predisposed to honor-related aggression than those from other econo-
mies? One study provides some support for this relationship (Figueredo, Tal, McNeil,
& Guillen, 2004). Figueredo et al. looked at whether herding and farming populations
differ in their adherence to a culture of honor, using participant samples from Mexico
and other Central American countries. Consistent with the hypothesis stated by Nesbitt
and his colleagues, individuals from herding populations were more likely to adhere
to the culture of honor (e.g., more likely to endorse revenge) than those making up
farming communities.
What evidence do we have that such a culture of honor exists and that it affects
violence levels in the South? Nisbett (1993) reported that when southern and northern
cities of equal size and demographic makeup are compared, there is a higher homicide
rate among southern white males than among northern white males. This difference is
only true for argument-related homicides, not for homicides resulting from other felonies
(e.g., robbery; Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, & Schwartz, 1996). Interestingly, this regional
difference holds only for white males and not African American males (Nisbett, Polly,
& Lang, 1995). Additionally, Nisbett found a greater acceptance of violence to solve
interpersonal con¬‚icts and to respond to a perceived insult among southern than among
northern white males. The differences between southern and northern white males is
most pronounced for behaviors that receive moderate to low support from the general
public (Hayes & Lee, 2005). Hayes and Lee found that differences emerged between
northern and southern white males on the following behaviors (p. 613):
1. If an adult male stranger hit a manʼs child after accidentally damaging the
strangerʼs car,
2. If a drunk adult male stranger bumped into a man and his wife on the street,
3. If an adult male stranger was encountered by a man at a protest rally showing
opposition to the manʼs views.
No difference was found between northerners and southerners for behaviors receiv-
ing more widespread approval. For example, no difference was found for a scenario
involving an adult male punching a woman.
Findings, based on homicide rates, were veri¬ed by Nisbett and his colleagues in
a series of experiments. In a ¬eld experiment (Cohen & Nisbett, 1997), employers in
various parts of the United States were sent a letter from a potential job applicant who
committed either an honor-based homicide (killing someone who was having an affair
with his ¬anc©) or an auto theft. Each response was analyzed for whether an application
was sent to the potential employee and the tone of the return letter. Cohen and Nisbett
found that more southern-based companies sent a job application to the employee con-
victed of manslaughter than did northern-based companies. However, there was no
difference between southern and northern companies in the rate of compliance to the
employee who stole a car. Additionally, the tone of the letters coming from southern
companies was warmer and more understanding of the homicide than was the tone of
the letters from northern companies. Again, there was no difference in warmth or under-
standing between northern and southern companies for the theft letter.
Regional differences in violence between the North and South have been well
documented. But is the culture of honor responsible? Are southern males more likely
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 383

to react negatively to insults than northern males? In a series of interesting laboratory
experiments (Cohen et al., 1996), southern and northern white males were insulted or
not insulted by a male confederate of the experimenter. In one experiment, Cohen and
colleagues (1996) were interested in whether there was a difference between southerners
and northerners in their physiological responses to the insult. Participants were told that
they were going to take part in an experiment that required monitoring of blood sugar
levels. Saliva samples were obtained from participants before and after the insult (or no
insult). The saliva samples were analyzed for cortisol and testosterone levels. (Cortisol
is a stress-related hormone that increases when one is aroused or under stress.)
The results from this experiment are shown in Figure 10.5 (testosterone levels) and
Figure 10.6 (cortisol levels). As you can see, there was no difference between insulted
and noninsulted northern participants for both cortisol and testosterone levels. However,




Figure 10.5 Percentage
testosterone change as
a function of culture and
insult. Northerners did not
show a signi¬cant increase
in testosterone levels after
being insulted. Southerners,
on the other hand, showed
substantial increases in
testosterone levels after
being insulted.




Figure 10.6 Percentage
cortisol change as a
function of culture and
insult. Northerners did not
show a signi¬cant increase
in cortisol levels after
being insulted. In contrast,
southerners showed an
increase in cortisol levels
after being insulted.
Social Psychology
384

for southern participants, there was a signi¬cant rise in both cortisol and testosterone
levels for insulted southern participants (compared to the noninsulted southerners). Thus,
in response to an insult, southern white males are more “primed” physiologically for
aggression than their northern counterparts (Cohen et al., 1996). In another experiment,
Cohen and colleagues (1996) found that after being publicly insulted (compared to being
privately insulted or not insulted), southern white males were more likely to experience a
drop in perceived masculinity. No such difference was found for northern white males.
Cohen (1998) investigated those aspects of southern and western culture that relate

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