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Self-esteem and violence: testing links between adolescent self-esteem and later hostility and violent behavior

Abstract

This study investigated the relationship between self-esteem in adolescence and later violent offending and hostility via self- and other-report, examining data from a birth cohort of over 1,000 New Zealand young adults studied to age 25. Lower levels of self-esteem at age 15 were related to greater risks of violent offending and higher levels of hostility at ages 18, 21, and 25. Adjustment for potentially confounding factors reduced the strength of the associations between self-esteem at age 15 and both self- and other-reported violent offending and other-reported hostility at ages 18, 21, and 25 to statistically non-significant levels. The association between self-esteem at age 15 and later self-reported hostility remained statistically significant, but was small in magnitude. A similar pattern of results were obtained using self-esteem at age 10 as the predictor variable in place of the age 15 measure. In addition, a persistent association was found between unstable high self-esteem and self-reported violent offending. The results suggest that self-esteem level plays a limited role in the understanding of violent behavior.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the National Child Health Research Foundation, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.

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Correspondence to Joseph M. Boden PhD.

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Boden, J.M., Fergusson, D.M. & Horwood, L.J. Self-esteem and violence: testing links between adolescent self-esteem and later hostility and violent behavior. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 42, 881–891 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-007-0251-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-007-0251-7

Keywords

  • self-esteem
  • violence
  • hostility
  • longitudinal study