How Abused Teens View Consequences of Violence

Actions have consequences. The way a person reacts to a situation or behaves is based on how he or she processes social and emotional cues. For example, if an individual believes someone is a threat based on facial expressions, he or she may be motivated to act defensively. For children and teens who have survived abuse, social information processing (SIP) may be impaired. These children may view hostile environments as normal and therefore react with aggression regardless of the threat to themselves or others. They may also be less inclined to accurately predict the outcomes of their violent behavior. Violence outcome expectancies (VOE) guide people’s behavior, and if VOEs are distorted, behavior could follow a similar distorted and disruptive pattern.

Stephen Ellenbogen of the School of Social Work at Memorial University in Canada wanted to find out if VOEs predicted violent behavior in children at risk for maladaptive adjustment. He evaluated the VOEs of adolescents recruited from Child Protective Services, all of whom had experienced some form of maltreatment. The participants were asked to describe what they thought the outcome would be if they acted violently toward a loved one, and whether that outcome would be one they liked. One year later, Ellenbogen analyzed the participants’ aggression levels from self-reports.

The results revealed that, overall, the teens were able to think their actions through, recognizing that violent behavior would have negative outcomes. Despite the level of abuse the teens experienced, most of the teens also reported that they would not like the consequences they anticipated. However, there were some differences. In particular, the most aggressive teens downplayed their VOEs, saying they did not think the consequences would be significant. They said they would laugh about their violent actions, or they believed there would be little or no retaliation for their violent behavior. This finding suggests that even though they are capable of empathizing with victims and consequentially thinking through their behaviors, they may be indifferent to the ramifications. Ellenbogen believes the most aggressive participants may be used to violent social networks and therefore view that as less problematic. This could indicate which at-risk youths are more likely to act on aggressive impulses. “Clinicians might want to explore how these youth process social information in conflict situations in order to better understand their perceptual framework,” Ellenbogen said.

Ellenbogen, Stephen, Nico Trocme, and Christine Wekerle. Self-generated outcome expectancies concerning violence in intimate relationships: A comparison of aggressive and nonaggressive adolescents in a sample of Child Protective Services users. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 44.4 (2012): 300-07. Print.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dean


    December 10th, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    For many of the acting out aggression is about far more than the consequences that they will face. It is mor about needing an outlet for the anger and not really caring about the outcome, or at least feeling like they can downplay the outcomes that will occur. I feel truly bad for these kids, because most of the are going to be in trouble, but really, most of them can’t help it, they just need some way to express themselves without being a danger to themselves or someone else.

  • miller


    December 11th, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    if a young person has already suffered at the hands of abuse most of the time they have become so desensitized that the consequences of their actions will generally be the last thing their mind. sometimes it is more about hurting someone before they have the chance to hurt you.

  • Trace G

    Trace G

    December 11th, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    A child who has suffered and seen abuse just breaks my heart. It is so unfair to the child. It’s like the abuser is robbing the child of his or her potential and really becoming who he or she was meant to me. I truly hope this study and others like it will go a long way towards helping these children become whole again. All children deserve the opportunity to be all they can be.

  • Julie


    December 11th, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    Breaking the cycle of abuse needs to be our nation’s number one priority. We can’t expect kids to perform well on test or in life if they are being abused or seeing abuse at home.

  • jackie


    December 11th, 2012 at 11:37 PM

    well if they cannot pick the cues and act fine there s no reason to trouble those around you.because moody has a right to be mean to others because they’re being an agent of negative energy then!

  • stressmom


    December 12th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Most of them are just so numb that it really doesn’t much matter to them anymore

  • G.B


    December 12th, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    Never a good idea to try and reason with such individuals.They care for no one and having known cases where they have ended up causing harm I would recommend all to stay away.I don’t know what’s wrong with such people but they just don’t seem to care.They may have seen or suffered abuse but that doesn’t give them the right to treat others like that.Its something that should definitely be curtailed.

  • gardner


    December 13th, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    most of their views about violence and its effects would be distorted no doubt.but the stress should be on how we can save or rather help such people get back to seeing things right.

    this has an effect not just on a few individuals but our entire world at see all those kids and teens in the third world seeming violent and irrational and the child soldiers?do you think anybody chooses to live like that?they have been exposed to far too much violence at a very young distorts their thinking and ideas about violence.not trying to have a political debate here but that’s just an example of what’s discussed here.

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