Sex Differences in the Solitary and Assaultive Fantasies of Delinquent and Nondelinquent Adolescents

By Silver, Rawley | Adolescence, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Sex Differences in the Solitary and Assaultive Fantasies of Delinquent and Nondelinquent Adolescents


Silver, Rawley, Adolescence


The purpose of this study was to investigate differences in attitudes toward self and others expressed through drawings and stories. An extension of earlier studies, the focus was on delinquent and nondelinquent adolescents who responded to a drawing task: respondents were examined for differences in gender and delinquency, as scored on a rating scale that ranges between strongly negative content, such as drawings about mortal danger, and strongly positive content, such as drawings about loving relationships.

Background

Several studies have found that males focus on independence and competition while females focus on affiliation and relationships (Tannen, 1990; Gilligan, Ward, Taylor, & Bardige, 1988). A study sponsored by the American Association of University Women (1992) found that girls experience a decline in self-esteem during early adolescence.

Stapley and Haviland (1989) found gender differences in the self-reports of emotional experiences by adolescents. Girls experienced emotions in affiliative interactions. Among boys, outer-directed negative emotions predominated whereas inner-directed negative emotions were more characteristic of girls. They also found that gender differences in psychopathology parallel gender differences in normal emotional functioning.

Rhodes and Fisher (1993) found that inner-city adolescents in a court diversion program were more likely than females to engage in aggressive offenses.

Although these investigators depended on verbal interviews and self-reports, drawings can also be used for access to attitudes and fantasies. It is theorized that attitudes evident in verbal conventions can also be evident in visual conventions and that drawings tend to be less guarded than talk. A study of 436 children, adolescents, and adults found that males tend to draw fortunate subjects living in dangerous worlds while females portray their fortunate subjects in pleasant worlds, unfortunate subjects in unpleasant worlds (Silver, 1987). A subsequent study of 531 children, adolescents, and adults also found gender differences in drawings about solitary objects and drawings about interpersonal relationships (Silver, 1993a). Across five age groups, males tended to express negative attitudes toward relationships and showed significantly stable and a higher frequency of drawing about assaultive relationships. Females expressed both positive and negative attitudes toward relationships. Larger proportions of younger adolescent girls than any other adolescent age group drew pictures about stressful relationships. They also expressed more positive attitudes toward solitary subjects than did any other male or female age group. A third study included 203 females and 157 males, most of whom had been diagnosed as clinically depressed, emotionally disturbed, or learning disabled (Silver, 1993b). These respondents expressed more negative than positive attitudes toward both solitary subjects and relationships. Across five age groups, 41% of the females and 49% of the males expressed negative attitudes toward solitary subjects. In drawings about relationships, 72% of the males drew assaultive or stressful relationships while females were both positive (29%) and negative (34%) as well as ambivalent or ambiguous (37%).

The question as to whether the principal subjects of drawings represent self-images has also been addressed. Respondents drew pictures about principal subjects of the same gender as themselves to degrees found significant at the .001 level of probability (Silver, 1992, 1993a, 1993b).

METHOD

In the present study, 138 adolescents were asked to respond to the Draw-A-Story (DAS) task (Silver, 1988/1993). Their responses were divided by gender and delinquency into drawings about solitary subjects and drawings about relationships, then evaluated on a 5-point rating scale based on attitudes toward the self-images or relationships portrayed. Their mean scores were also analyzed and compared. …

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