Kids That Expect Aggression Tend to Act Aggressive

A new study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is showing that children who are expecting aggression from others tend to become aggressive themselves. This study was led by Duke University and was part of a four-year longitudinal study.

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The study involved 1,299 children and their parents, and it found that this pattern can be seen in 12 different cultural groups from nine different countries across the world. The study also showed that the pattern of aggression is more commonly seen in certain cultures over other cultures, which is why certain groups of children have more behavioral problems than the other children from different cultures. The technical term for the pattern is hypervigilance to hostility, which means that the children are on edge expecting aggression from someone else, and that in turn makes them aggressive. The results of this study can help not only on an individual basis, but it can also help us understand our differences among groups in the United States and abroad, such as the Arab-Israeli fighting that has been going on for decades.

This study proves there is a major psychological process that ends up leading the children to commit a violent crime. The study’s lead author was Kenneth A. Dodge, who is the director of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. Dodge said that “When a child infers that he or she is being threatened by someone else and makes an attribution that the other person is acting with hostile intent, then that child is likely to react with aggression. This study shows that this pattern is universal in every one of the 12 cultural groups studied worldwide.” The study also showed that cultures are different in terms of how they choose to socialize their children, some of those chose a defensive strategy, and that is what led to certain children becoming more aggressive than the other cultures who did not choose this defensive strategy.

The study participants were from Jinan, China; Medellin, Colombia; Naples, Italy; Rome, Italy; Zarqa, Jordan; the Luo tribe of Kisumu, Kenya; Manilla, the Philippines; Trollhattan/Vanersborg, Sweden; Chiang Mai, Thailand; and Durham, N.C., in the United States. The group in the Untied States included African-Americans, European-Americans, and Hispanic communities. At the start of the study, the children involved were age 8, so the study lasted until the children were around 12 or 13 years of age.


For the study, the researchers measure the children’s levels of aggressive behavior, which was done by observations of the child and the mother. The children were also asked to respond to hypothetical vignettes that could involve someone being hostile towards them, such as someone bumping into them from behind and that caused the child to step in a puddle. The researchers then rated the answers of the children by determining whether the children had interpreted the ambiguous acts as hostile or non-hostile, and whether the children would escalate the conflict into an aggressive act. The study showed that some children in each did have the regular pattern called “hostile attributional bias.” In every culture, when the child believed the act was a hostile intent, they were more likely to react aggressively, with them being about 5 times as likely to act than the children who accepted the act as a non-hostile act. The children who had the hostile attributional bias were more likely to grow in the severity and the rate of their aggressive behaviors across the four-years of the study.

Lastly, the study showed that the cultures with the highest rates of hostile attributional bias, such as Jordan and Naples, also had the highest rates of child aggressive behavior problems. The cultures with the lowest rates of hostile attributional bias, such as Trollhättan, Sweden, and Jinan, China, ended up with the least child aggressive behavior problems. The results of the study show that if you want children to stop acting so aggressively towards others, you have to start when they are young by teaching them that accidents happen and not everything should be taken personally or as a hostile act. In some cultures, the parents teach the children at a very young age that certain types of people are out to kill them or harm them, and this is just not true. This group that is taught to fear certain people from a very young age also go on to commit more crimes than other groups, and wind up in jail at a higher rate than other groups.

The fact of the matter is that if your culture seems to be getting into trouble more than other groups and into criminal situations, then this study proves that it all comes back to parenting and teaching children that most of the time, people are not being hostile or aggressive towards you. It is like that old saying, what you put out there comes back to you ten-fold, which means if you are thinking people are coming at you aggressively, you put that vibe out there, and then you will run into that type of situation, and often times these situations can wind up costing you your life.




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Jeanne Rose
Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been a freelance writer since 2010. She took Allied Health in vocational school where she earned her CNA/PCA, and worked in a hospital for 3 years. Jeanne enjoys writing about science, health, politics, business, and other topics as well.

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