Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Violent Responses to Strain: An Examination of Conditioning Influences

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Violent Responses to Strain: An Examination of Conditioning Influences

Article excerpt

Past research on General Strain Theory (GST) has not widely examined the application of the theory for understanding violent responses to strain. Additionally, the theory suggests there may be varying effects of strain on possible deviant outcomes across individuals differentiated on their dispositions toward deviance. In the current analysis, we examine violent responses to strain using original data collected from a sample of college-aged youth. Moreover, we specifically examine whether the effects of strain and anger on possible violent outcomes are invariant across individuals differentiated on their level of exposure to deviant peers and moral constraints against deviance. Using structural equation modeling, our results suggest that a composite measure of strain increases respondents' intentions to engage in assaultive behavior net of other predictors. Additionally, the results reveal that anger mediates the impact of strain on possible violent responses. Finally, the results of our subgroup analyses suggest that the basic form of the GST model is invariant across groups.

One of the more pressing issues our nation must address and one which cuts across fields as diverse as epidemiology, criminology, psychology, and medicine is the prevalence of violence and its impact on families, neighborhoods, and the nation as a whole. Past estimates suggest that approximately 83% of persons age 12 years will be violently victimized sometime in their lifetime (Koppel, 1987). In terms of assaultive behaviors, recent statistics reveal that arrests for aggravated and other assaults exceeded 1.6 million in 1993 (Maguire & Pastore, 1995). Comparing arrest statistics for assaultive behaviors with victimization data, however, reveals that official estimates represent only a fraction of overall assaultive behaviors in America. Moreover, a recent accounting of the overall costs of crime suggests that the estimated cost associated with assaultive victimizations approximates 93 billion dollars (Miller, Cohen, & Wiersema, 1996: 24). Reducing the overall level of assaultive behavior in America, therefore, has important public safety as well as financial implications.

Despite recent FBI statistics portraying favorable information concerning reductions in crime, including violent crime, such reductions have not been especially pronounced among the youth of the nation. For example, the rate of juvenile arrests for violent crime increased by 50% between the years 1988 and 1994. Additionally, substantial increases - as much as a threefold increase - in the number of juvenile homicide offenders between the period of 1984 and 1994 suggest that juvenile crime is especially pronounced for the most serious forms of violent crime (Synder, Sickmund, & Poe-Yamagata, 1996). For young adults, a similar trend emerges. For individuals aged 18-20, the rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter has more than doubled since 1970 (Maguire and Pastore, 1996). Given such alarming trends, a move toward reducing the overall incidence of violent behavior across the country, most notably among the youth of the nation, is a pressing public policy issue to be addressed in the future.

A number of different perspectives provide useful frameworks for understanding risk factors for violence. A recent report by the National Research Council (Reiss & Roth, 1993) identified three general categories for understanding violent behavior: psychosocial, biological, and social. Despite the vast array of accumulated knowledge surrounding violence and its related characteristics, the authors acknowledged that the, "...causal mechanisms that underlie the correlations are not well understood" (Reiss & Roth, 1993:19). Such ambiguity over the intervening mechanisms lying between risk factors for violence and violent responses necessitates applying extant theory to categorize and develop meaningful explanations for various empirical facts.

In the present analysis, we focus on a recent theoretical contribution to etiological discussions of crime and delinquency, namely, the General Strain Theory (Agnew, 1992). …

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