On aggression

I just read a very interesting article about aggression. In it, William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis consider how aggression and adaptation are inter-related. In it, there are a couple of minor points that would merit more critical discussion, but I really enjoyed this essay. Some of the points they make include:

“There is no doubt that the view that aggression is a negative correlate of healthy development has dominated the study of developmental psychology. According to this perspective, aggression in childhood is a marker of maladjustment and it impedes adaptation and development. Accordingly, children who are aggressive have been identified as being at risk for multiple forms of concurrent and subsequent maladaptation. There is no shortage of information to justify this perspective. To be sure, measures of aggression are typically positively correlated with measures of all things “bad.” Children who exhibit high levels of aggression are at risk for a long list of maladaptive outcomes, including criminality, limited levels of academic and occupational achievement, and unhappiness. In general, measures of aggression are observed to be negatively correlated with nearly every concurrent measure of adjustment that one can think of, including measures of happiness, measures of being liked by same-and other-sex peers during childhood, measures of friendship, and measures of psychological health.” (p.186)

“…measures of proactive aggression are less strongly associated with measures of negative outcomes than are measures of reactive aggression.” (p.187)

“We claim that the diverse challenges of being an individual in a social group means that there is a time and place for a broad range of behaviors including, in some cases, some forms of aggression. More importantly, we claim that non-additive and nonlinear models are needed to understand how aggression is linked to functioning with peers.” (p.187)

Although there is no universally agreed-on definition of aggression, the basic point of many definitions is that aggression is an act that by intention harms another person or group of persons. This definition seems to be clear, but its application can be tricky as many factors need to be considered including (a) the type of aggression being examined, (b) how one assesses intentionality, (c) what constitutes harm, and (d) the outcome of an aggressive act (i.e., “are all aggressive acts bad?”).” (p.188)

“By definition, relational aggression includes the desire to psychologically harm another by causing injury to and damaging another’s relationships.” (p.189)

“How do we determine intentionality? One of the critical aspects of the definition of aggression is the idea that aggressive acts are intentional. But, who judges the intentionality of an act? What if the child asserts that he did not intend to harm another? Do we take the child at his word? Or do we use the peer group’s view of intentionality? To our knowledge few (if any) studies have actually assessed the “alleged” aggressor’s perception of his behavior.” (p.191)

“…a judgement about a child’s “intent to harm” in committing aggressive acts can also be swayed by knowledge of the child’s emotional state and emotional coping. It is unlikely to be adaptive if a child, in response to a range of feelings, always selects aggression as their preferred response. Children who characteristically respond to a variety of emotions by acting aggressively probably have a narrow repertoire and limited set of problem-solving skills. Furthermore, some emotions that precede or motivate the “intent to harm” (e.g., frustration, fear, anxiety) may involve self-oriented emotion regulation, although other emotions (e.g., jealousy, envy, revenge, or anger with another) have a more dyadic relational or other-oriented quality. In essence, a judgment of aggression as adaptive or maladaptive depends on a contextualized understanding of the aggression, which includes an understanding of emotionally based coping.” (p.192)

Ref: William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis (2007) self, other, and aggression: the never-ending search for the roots of adaptation. Pp.185-205 in Aggression and Adaptation. The bright side to bad behaviour. Harley, P, Little T, Rodkin P. LEA Publishers London

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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