The impact of violent socialization

Date of Completion

January 2003


Psychology, Clinical




This is the second investigation of a measure, the Violent Socialization Scale (VSS), to assess Athens's (1992) conceptual model of violent socialization. The first investigation found the VSS to assess accurately the six developmental components described within Athens's model. These six factors manifested high internal consistency reliability and discriminated significantly between men from a college sample and male incarcerated inmates. The present investigation examined the degree to which nonviolent people understand the developmental pathways through which others learn to use violence and understand the traumatic impact of early exposure to violence in creating violent outcomes. This study also collected data from women for the first time and assessed the impact of gender. Within a context of anonymity, 206 college men and women volunteers were asked to complete the VSS as well as three additional scales measuring aggression and traumatic stress with well-established validity. Within a counterbalanced design, participants completed these measures twice: once from their own experiences of violent socialization and trauma and once as they thought a violent, incarcerated adult would answer the items. This simulation condition provided a means of obtaining responses that reflect generalized beliefs about how violence and trauma are associated. Data analyses indicated that the self-reported experiences among the college respondents were significantly fewer than their projections of a “dangerous criminal's” experiences on all six VSS subscales and the criterion measures. There were several main effects for Gender, such that women reported significantly more traumatic experiences and less violence then men, with the largest gender differences occurring in respondents' own self reports, rather than in the simulation condition. Participants who reported more intense personal trauma experiences also were found to be more strongly influenced when projecting such trauma experiences onto the stimulus figure. As these data were collected from an eight-month period following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, acute traumatic stress symptoms could have confounded some of the differences. The VSS continues to show promise for future study and use. Increased understanding of the means by which people learn to utilize violence can, in turn, lead to potentially more efficacious preventive interventions. ^