, Volume 13, Issue 3-4, pp 301-326,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 04 Jul 2007

Policy Implications of Present Knowledge on the Development and Prevention of Physical Aggression

Abstract

Research indicates that children are born with aggressive tendencies which they learn to control through early socialization. A small group, however, shows high aggression levels early on which remain stable throughout their life. Physical aggression is an epiphenomenon in a wide variety of antisocial behaviour, which wrecks the life of the individual as well as having large and negative consequences on society. The premise of this article is that physical aggression can be successfully influenced, but that there is a small window of opportunity in which to do this. Five rules about interventions which are more likely to be successful are presented: 1) the need for adequate evaluation, 2) the increased benefits of early prevention rather than later intervention, 3) intervention in multiple domains of the child’s life, 4) the importance of paying attention to treatment fidelity and professional execution, and 5) The current lack of substantive guidelines for specific interventions types. Within this context we review seven types of interventions to prevent physical aggression including: (1) promotion of physical health of mother and child, (2) increase family income, (3) increase access to existing services, (4) home visiting, (5) childcare, (6) preschool programs and (7) improving parenting. We conclude that promoting the physical health of mother and child should be more actively pursued, though additional experimental evidence is needed to clarify the relationship between health and social behaviour. An increase in family income, however, was not found by itself to help prevent the occurrence of physical aggression. An increase in access to existing services does not seem to reduce physical aggression, possibly because of the variable quality of these services. There is strong evidence that nurse home visitation programs, like the Nurse-Family Partnership, as well as some of the more rigorous preschool programs like the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, can be effective in deterring a child’s trajectory into violence, though more research in both these areas is needed and this research should be done by those who are not connected to these programs or past evaluations. Finally, we find that improving parenting through programmes like the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy programme can reduce the likelihood of violent behaviour, though, again, more experimental evidence is necessary. Overall, we argue that more experimental studies are necessary to better guide policy.

Prepared for the European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research.
The authors wish to thank Dr. Hans Hendrickx for his frequent reading of the manuscript, his sometimes critical comments, and his numerous suggestions.