Bad crowd could lead to future domestic violence, says prof
Just as most parents fear, a teenager’s group of friends could influence their behaviour toward others for the long term, says a University of Guelph psychologist. In trying to determine the precursors that lead to adult domestic violence, Karl Hennig and David Wolfe of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have been observing 230 Grade 9 and 10 students’ interactions with their same-sex friends and the quality of the dating patterns that emerge in the following two years.
“Peer harassment is widespread among Canadian high school students and predicts later psychological and social problems for perpetrators and victims alike,” said Hennig. “Ten to 20 per cent of high school male and female teens report having been hit, slapped or sexually coerced, and that number rises dramatically in late adolescence when people become involved in more intimate relationships.”
One line of research suggests that teen dating violence is a more generalized form of aggression learned earlier in same-sex deviant peer groups, said Hennig. “It suggests that young people get involved in physical fighting and then carry that over into their dating relationships.” But this pattern isn’t consistent with the research on violence in adult intimate relationships, he said.
The adult research indicates there are two types of adult violent behaviour: people who are generally violent and people who are violent only in intimate relationships. “There must be separate pathways leading to these two subtypes,” Hennig said.
With their study, he and Wolfe hope to determine at what point these two pathways diverge and what predicts which pathway is taken.
The researchers have been videotaping individual teens interacting with a same-sex friend the first year and then with a dating partner in two subsequent years of the study. They are watching closely to see if the participants’ interactions with the same-sex friend predict subsequent opposite-sex interactions.
Hennig and Wolfe are using two methods to determine predictors of the two types of adult violent behaviours. The first method involves recording the extent to which participants become absorbed in what the researchers call “deviant talk” and “negative gender talk.” “Deviant talk” is talk about illegal activities such as drug use and drinking. “Negative gender talk” is disparaging talk about the opposite sex.
“What distinguishes the deviant peer group from the normal peer group is the presence of laughter following deviant and negative gender talk,” said Hennig. “The popular MTV series Beavis and Butthead is a good example of the kind of processes we’re interested in. Beavis makes a deviant or derogatory comment about a woman and Butthead laughs, beginning an oscillation of back-and-forth laughter inviting further derogatory remarks.”
He expects deviant talk will predict aggression across both same-sex and opposite-sex adult relationships.
Those who have a history of poor attachment relationships with caregivers are shown to be aggressive exclusively in intimate relationships, said Hennig. The measure the researchers are using to predict this behaviour is “The Propensity for Abusiveness Scale” developed by University of British Columbia professor Don Dutton, who was the psychologist for the prosecution in the O.J. Simpson case.
This is the first time the scale has been used on adolescents, and the researchers are finding it’s an effective predictor of conflict in adolescent relationships. As they continue to observe the study participants with dating partners, “we’ll start to see an increase in individuals who are violent only in intimate relationships, as well as a pattern of those who are just generally violent,” said Hennig.
Department of Psychology
University of Guelph
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