Public Release: 

Repeated exposure to community violence associated with violent behavior

New research examines link between community violence, depression, and violent behavior in teenage minority boys

The Reis Group

As exposure to community violence increases for adolescent men of color, symptoms of depression subside and violent behaviors increase, according to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, a journal of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. The results add evidence to a model demonstrating the desensitization to violence that can occur with greater exposure.

"Community violence disproportionately impacts minority teen boys; but until now, we weren't sure of the long-term effects of repeated exposure to violence on the mental health of these children," said Noni Gaylord-Harden, PhD, a lead author of the study and associate professor at Loyola University Chicago. "This study is unique because it is the first to test this theory of desensitization in a sample consisting entirely of males of color over a long period of time. As a result, we have gained valuable insight into the mental health implications of repeated exposure to violence for this vulnerable population, as well as the critical time points and factors for detection and prevention."

The study, co-authored by researchers at Loyola University Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Virginia, examined the associations between exposure to community violence, depressive symptoms and violent behavior among 285 African American and Latino male youths in Chicago for five consecutive years starting at fifth or seventh grade. All participants were from urban neighborhoods characterized by high violence and high poverty.

The researchers used the Pathologic Adaptation Model (PAM) to examine the emotional desensitization process that occurs in youth who are repeatedly exposed to community violence. PAM demonstrates that youth may initially express affective depressive symptoms, such as sadness, crying or feelings of worthlessness and guilt, but become emotionally numb to community violence as they witness more incidents. The findings also suggest that there is a positive association between violence exposure and subsequent violent behavior.

"These findings point to the importance of early identification of youth exposed to community violence in the formative early and middle adolescent years," said Gaylord-Harden. "Selective prevention programs are needed to address depressive symptoms and reduce potential violent or aggressive behaviors. Efforts to reduce the likelihood of these behaviors may, in turn, reduce rates of school suspension, expulsion, and incarceration in males of color."

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Noni K. Gaylord-Harden, Suzanna So, Grace J. Bai, David B. Henry & Patrick H. Tolan. "Examining the Pathologic Adaptation Model of Community Violence Exposure in Male Adolescents of Color." Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. Web (September 27, 2016).

The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (JCCAP) is the official journal for the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (Division 53), American Psychological Association, published in collaboration with Taylor & Francis. It publishes original contributions on the following topics: (a) the development and evaluation of assessment and intervention techniques for use with clinical child and adolescent populations; (b) the development and maintenance of clinical child and adolescent problems; (c) cross-cultural and sociodemographic issues that have a clear bearing on clinical child and adolescent psychology in terms of theory, research, or practice; and (d) training and professional practice in clinical child and adolescent psychology, as well as child advocacy.

The Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP) leads the advancement and practice of evidence-based therapies based on psychological science. The society promotes scientific inquiry, training, professional practice and public policy reform as a means of improving the welfare and mental health of children, youth and families. As a section of the American Psychological Association, its members include nearly 3,000 clinical child and adolescent psychologists, trainees and other mental health professionals. More information on the Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology is available at http://www.clinicalchildpsychology.org. Information on the evidence-based approaches to treat life stressors and mental disorders in children and adolescents is available at http://www.effectivechildtherapy.org.

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