Explaining aggressive and delinquent behaviors of disadvantaged adolescents: The impact of negative metastereotypes

For a long time, different (social-) scientific disciplines have been concerned with the phenomena aggression, violence, and delinquency. The particular relevance of these topics in adolescence is demonstrated by recent heated debates about youth violence in several European countries – for example,...

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Main Author: Issmer, Christian
Contributors: Wagner, Ulrich (Prof.Dr.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Dissertation
Language: English
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2012
Psychologie
Edition: http://dx.doi.org/10.17192/z2013.0083
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Summary: For a long time, different (social-) scientific disciplines have been concerned with the phenomena aggression, violence, and delinquency. The particular relevance of these topics in adolescence is demonstrated by recent heated debates about youth violence in several European countries – for example, with reference to the “U-Bahn Schläger” incidents in Germany (see Becker, Brandt, Kaiser, Neumann, & Scheuermann, 2011) or the “London riots” in Great Britain in August 2011 (see Reicher & Stott, 2011). A central aim of this dissertation was to investigate the influence of so called “negative metastereotypes” towards the majority society on aggression and delinquency in groups of disadvantaged adolescents. Metastereotypes are defined as “a person’s beliefs regarding the stereotype that out-group members hold about his or her own group” (Vorauer et al., 1998, p. 917). In the context of this dissertation, an example for a metastereotype would be the belief of an imprisoned adolescent that society outside the prison walls generally regards juvenile criminals as unintelligent and lacking discipline. Within the framework of the dissertation, data were collected in three societal groups: Imprisoned adolescents, educationally disadvantaged adolescents, and members of an ethnic minority. The central hypothesis was that negative metastereotypes towards the majority society have an aggression- and delinquency-enhancing effect in disadvantaged groups. This hypothesis is based on assumptions of criminological Labeling Theory (Becker, 1963) and findings from social psychological research in the tradition of Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) as well as research on the phenomenon of social exclusion (Williams, 2009). The thesis at hand consists of three manuscripts, each of which tested the stated central hypothesis. Furthermore, each manuscript pursued specific additional research questions. The hypotheses of the current thesis were confirmed in five studies altogether. Manuscript #1 demonstrated in a sample of N = 225 incarcerated adolescents that negative metastereotypes towards the majority society predict different delinquency-enhancing measures, such as aggressiveness or negative attitudes towards the law. A second study with N = 92 educationally disadvantaged adolescents additionally revealed that negative metastereotypes are also related to self-reported commitment of legal transgressions and that this effect is only significant for persons holding high self-esteem (cf. Bushman et al., 2009). Using a sample of N = 50 members of an ethnic minority in Great Britain, Manuscript #2 showed that negative metastereotypes reduce the perceived fairness of society, because they result in an increased recall of personal experiences with discrimination (cf. Owuamalam & Zagefka, 2012). A second study with N = 132 educationally disadvantaged adolescents additionally revealed that the two mentioned constructs mediate the enhancing effect of negative metastereotypes on various problem behaviors (e.g., aggression) as well as the reducing impact on peaceful protest behavior. Finally, Manuscript #3 demonstrated on the basis of longitudinal data from N = 181 students of vocational schools that perceived societal disintegration (see Heitmeyer & Anhut, 2000) results in increased negative metastereotypes towards the majority society. Furthermore, negative metastereotypes were established as a longitudinal mediator between perceived disintegration and violent behavior. Taken as a whole, results from the three manuscripts indicate the relevance of negative metastereotypes in the emergence and maintenance of aggressive and delinquent behavior patterns. Consequently, they suggest that the reduction of negative metastereotypes could be an effective strategy for violence and crime prevention. In the current thesis, intergroup contact is discussed as a means to learn about another group’s point of view and consequently to reduce stereotypes and metastereotypes (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006, 2008). Additionally, the findings about the influence of perceived disintegration suggest that disadvantaged groups should receive more (advancement) opportunities, e.g., through improved labor market inclusion, and more appreciation in society. In this way violence and delinquency could effectively be reduced.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17192/z2013.0083