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