Shippensburg University
Psychology Department

Psi High Newsletter

October, 2007
Volume 32, No. 1


What causes violent attitudes in adolescents?

Exposure to violence could be the answer

By Samantha Siino (undergraduate English major at Shippensburg University)

Over five hundred thousand children a year are injured as a result of violence. Around fifty thousand of those injuries require hospitalization. Karen Slovak Ph.D. and Karen Carlson of Ohio University, and Linda Helm of Miami University (“The Influence of Family Violence on Youth Attitudes,” Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 2007) set out to find a connection between violence exposure and unhealthy attitudes toward violence. They wanted to find support for their claim that violence in the home, in the community, or among peers can influence violent behavior in children.

The researchers administered two tests to students in two middle schools, one high school, and a nontraditional vocational technical high school. The Attitudes toward Guns and Violence Questionnaire (AGVG) and the Life Experiences Survey (LES) were the two tests used in the study. The AGVG measured attitudes concerning firearms, physical aggression, and violent confrontations in youth. The LES was designed to measure past and recent exposure to violence. LES items allowed the participants to state the settings in which the violence took place (home, school, etc.) as well as their status (victim or witness). For example, the LES asks, “How often over the past year did you see someone else at home being told they were going to be hurt?” This question pertains to being a witness of violence in the home. The LES also asks, “How often over the past year have you been beaten up at home?” This question has to do with direct victimization in the home.

Males reported more violent behaviors than females. Younger individuals reported more violence than older adolescents. School was the setting for the most violence as victim or witness. (This is probably because of the high density of youth in schools. However, school violence did not influence adolescents’ attitudes toward violence. This may result from desensitization to violence in schools due to its frequency there.) Neighborhood was below school in the amount of violence reported, and data analysis revealed a connection between neighborhood violence and feelings of shame.

The most severe form of violence (being attacked) was reported to have taken place within the home. Violence in the home also includes personal victimization and witnessing marital violence. Although home violence was reported at lower levels than in the other settings, it had more severe consequences. For example, those who experienced home violence had greater acceptance of children owning firearms and weapons, and they were more likely to think of violence as normal.

The authors recommend intervention efforts in all three arenas (home, school, and peers) in order to interrupt and modify cycles that perpetuate violent attitudes and violence.


Does the pursuit of happiness encourage binge eating?

The struggle to be thin and happy may lead to eating disorders

By Samantha Siino

People develop both eating habits and eating disorders based on what they have learned. Some have learned to use food as a way to make themselves feel happy, while others have learned that thinness equals happiness. Agnes M. Annus, Kelly K. Hill, and Gregory T. Smith of the University of Kentucky, Jean R. Simmons of the Cleveland Clinic, and Kate Flory of the University of South Carolina (“Thinness and Eating Expectancies Predict Subsequent Binge-Eating and Purging Behavior Among Adolescent Girls,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2007) studied the feelings girls have about food and thinness in order to shed light on how and when eating disorder behaviors develop.

Eating disorder expectancy theory suggests that one’s learning history influences expectations for the consequences of different behaviors. Applied to eating disorder behavior, expectancy theory can help map out the risk process for eating disorders. For example, some individuals learn that the pursuit of thinness will give favorable outcomes. Others learn that food is a powerful reinforcer. In some extreme cases, eating disorders are brought about by these two expectancies (thinness and/or the reinforcing properties of food).

A group of 394 girls took part in the study. The average age of the participants at the start of the study was twelve years old. Over a three-year period, the girls responded to questionnaires, which they completed over one-to-two--day periods. The Eating Expectancy Inventory Scale measured in what ways food alleviates negative emotions. It included items such as, “When I am feeling depressed or upset, eating can help me take my mind off my problems.”

The Thinness and Restricting Expectancy Inventory has been shown to be consistent in predicting eating disorder symptoms. Statements in this inventory, such as, “I would feel less stressed, in general, if I were thin,” measured what expectancies the girls had for thinness.

The Bulimia Test indicated whether the girls were engaging in bulimic behavior. Ten of the statements reflected binge eating. One example is, “I would presently rate myself a compulsive eater (someone who has bouts of uncontrolled eating).” Eleven items focused on purging behavior, for example, “How often do you intentionally vomit after eating?”

The researchers considered the possibility that expectancy is a forbearer of eating disorder behavior. According to expectancy theory, one’s expectancies could lead to a cycle of eating disorder behavior. For example, thinness expectancies, such as losing weight in order to feel happy, lead to stress and pressure. An expectancy of bingeing is that it alleviates stress, so girls may resort to bingeing when they are stressed that they cannot lose weight, which in turn leads to purging in order to prevent weight gain from bingeing.

Results showed that more than half of the middle school girls reported that they had engaged in no bingeing and purging behavior, while a small amount reported that they had engaged in bulimic behavior. The participants with the highest tendency to relate food with happiness tended to engage in bingeing and purging behavior two or three times a month. Results of the Bulimia Test showed that 3.55% of the girls reported instances of binge eating more than once a month, while 1% reported purging more than once a month.

The researchers discovered a difference in food and thinness expectancies between the group of girls that did not purge and the group of girls that experienced a gradual increase in purging behavior over time. In the group of girls that initially reported nonpurging behavior (and later did purge), their level of thinness expectancies predicted how long it would take them to begin purging behavior (the higher the expectancies of thinness the sooner they would begin purging). Overall, 18% of the girls changed their food reinforcement expectancies and 53% changed their thinness expectancies, indicating that learning was taking place.

The study demonstrated that learning experiences can affect food and thinness expectancies in adolescent girls and can bring about bingeing and purging behavior.


What do adolescents think about parental discipline?

Most see it as an opportunity to consider options and to make choices

Almost all adolescents experience parental discipline, but families address problematic behavior in a variety of ways. Those possibilities were the focus of research by Shippensburg University undergraduate Psychology majors Lauren Butler and Kim Wampler, along with Psychology Department Chair Suzanne Morin. For their study entitled “Adolescents’ Perception of Parental Discipline Styles” (presented at the 2007 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association) they surveyed 42 individuals with an age range of 17-19.

Participants read descriptions of disciplinary styles and, for each parent in their home, selected the most applicable style. There were four approaches from which the respondents could choose. The Authoritarian style was characterized by lots of rules and severe punishment, with major decisions being made by the parents rather than by the adolescents. The Permissive style involved no rules or punishment, with all major decisions being made by the adolescents. The Authoritative style included evolving rules and some punishment, with major decisions being made by the adolescents after consultation with parents. The Neglectful style had no rules or punishment and little parent-child interaction, with adolescents making their own choices without parental input.

The results indicated that 81% of the mothers and 54% of the fathers were perceived to use an Authoritative approach to discipline. Each of the other styles occurred less than 15% of the time. (All of the families had mothers present, but in more than 10% there were no fathers present.) The researchers concluded that the participants most often (1) perceived their parents to be willing to discuss issues and (2) believed the consequences of infractions were typically tailored to individual situations. Problematic behavior often resulted in adolescents hearing phrases such as, “What are your options?” and in ultimately making their own decisions.


Does racial prejudice on the part of accusers affect the perceived guilt of defendants?

Key factors are the targets of the prejudice and who witnessed it

Studying the opinions of mock jurors is a technique used by both practicing attorneys and researchers. Christian Hart, Edward Lopez (both in the Psychology Department at East Central University of Idaho), and James Griffith (a member of the Psychology Department at Shippensburg University) are researchers who used the mock juror technique in their study entitled, “Evaluation of the Race Card Strategy: The Importance of Supporting Evidence” (published in The Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology, 2007). The “race card” is said to have been played when defense attorneys charge police, prosecution witnesses, and/or prosecutors with racial bias.

The researchers conducted two studies in which jury-eligible individuals read about a fictional trial of a man charged with attempted burglary. The defendant claimed he was merely passing by the scene of the incident, and the only evidence presented against him was the testimony of the arresting officer who said he witnessed the crime. After reading their particular version of the trial, each participant rated the defendant’s degree of guilt on a scale ranging from 0 (certain of innocence) to 10 (certain of guilt). In the first study there were 116 participants (82 white, 21 Native American or Alaskan Native, 9 black, 2 Asian or Pacific Islander, 2 indicated no ethnic heritage). The second study involved 80 participants (61 white, 10 Native American or Alaskan Native, 8 black, 1 Asian or Pacific Islander).

The first experiment used the following four versions of the fictional trial: (1) no accusation that the officer made racial slurs toward the defendant / no historical evidence of racial bias presented, (2) no accusation that the officer made racial slurs toward the defendant / historical evidence of racial bias presented, (3) accusation that the officer made racial slurs toward the defendant / no historical evidence of racial bias presented, and (4) accusation that the officer made racial slurs toward the defendant / historical evidence of racial bias presented. The respective guilt ratings were 4.28, 4.72, 4.69, and 3.55, with a statistically significant interaction between accusing the officer of making racial slurs toward the defendant and presenting evidence indicating a history of racial bias by the officer.

In the second experiment the fictional trial either did or did not contain a witness who testified to hearing the officer use racial slurs toward the black man accused at the time of the arrest. The four versions of the trial were: (1) no race card played, (2) race card played / no witness, (3) race card played / white witness, (4) race card played / black witness. The resulting guilt ratings were 4.85, 5.15, 3.20, and 3.40, with the final two ratings being significantly different from the first two ratings.

Together, the experiments showed that in order for the race card to have a significant effect, it had to be supported by racial bias evidence coming from a third party. Furthermore, since the effect size was larger in the second experiment than in the first one, third-party evidence of racial bias directed toward the defendant at the time of the alleged crime had a more powerful influence on guilt ratings than did evidence of racial bias that had previously been directed toward someone not associated with the defendant.


Editor: Kenneth France, Ph.D.

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