Alienation & Displaced agressie
Bersselaar, P.M. van den
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Background: Recently, several dramatic incidents of displaced aggression, like school shootings, have occurred in different societies. It is assumed that elevated alienation is a key feature of the perpetrators. Aim: The present study examined the causal linkage between elevated alienation (state, trait, or their combination) and displaced aggression in young adolescents. Moreover, displaced aggression against members of the in-group versus the out-group, based on ethnicity, was examined. Method: Participants (N = 103) ranging between 12 and 16 years of age, were randomized to one of three writing conditions, alienation induction, negative mood, or control. The first condition served to yield increases in state alienation by having participants write about situations which made them feel lonely and/or excluded. In all conditions, participants subsequently participated in a fictitious online computer game (“Survivor”), in which they could aggress against innocent peers (displaced aggression). Results: The alienation induction manipulation did not have the expected effect; participants did not show a significant increase in state alienation as a result of the writing assignment. Moreover, level of displaced aggression did not differ across conditions. However, several dispositional variables like ‘trait psychopathy’ accounted for variance in displaced aggression. Youth high in alienation assigned to the alienation induction condition showed highest levels of displaced aggression Although Dutch participants showed somewhat more displaced aggression against the in-group rather than the out-group, no significant differences emerged. Conclusions: Although the expected effects did not occur, several trends converge in suggesting that alienation is linked in a rather complex fashion to displaced aggression.