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Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 75–86 | Cite as

Emotional Desensitization to Violence Contributes to Adolescents’ Violent Behavior

  • Sylvie MrugEmail author
  • Anjana Madan
  • Michael Windle
Article

Abstract

Many adolescents are exposed to violence in their schools, communities and homes. Exposure to violence at high levels or across multiple contexts has been linked with emotional desensitization, indicated by low levels of internalizing symptoms. However, the long-term consequences of such desensitization are unknown. This study examined emotional desensitization to violence, together with externalizing problems, as mediators of the relationship between exposure to violence in pre-adolescence and violent behavior in late adolescence. A community sample of youth (N = 704; 48 % female; 76 % African American, 22 % Caucasian) reported on their exposure to violence in multiple settings at ages 11, 13 and 18. Internalizing and externalizing problems were assessed at ages 11 and 13; violent behavior was measured at age 18. Structural Equation Modeling showed that exposure to high levels of violence at age 11 was associated with lower levels of internalizing problems (quadratic effect) at age 13, as was exposure to violence across multiple contexts (linear effect). In turn, fewer internalizing problems and more externalizing problems at age 13 predicted more violent behavior at age 18. The results suggest that emotional desensitization to violence in early adolescence contributes to serious violence in late adolescence.

Keywords

Exposure to violence Desensitization Internalizing problems Externalizing problems 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grants K01DA024700 and R01MH098348 from the National Institutes of Health to the first author and grant R49-CCR418569 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the third author.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  2. 2.Emory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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