The predictors of violence and delinquency in childhood and adolescence include attributes of the child (e.g., temperament, intelligence), the home environment (e.g., harsh parenting, maltreatment, domestic violence, family size and structure, parent mental illness, and family antisocial activity), the peer group (e.g., deviant peers, peer rejection), and the community (e.g., school and neighborhood factors; Wasserman et al., 2003). These factors correlate with or predict antisocial behavior in multiple ethnic groups (Rowe, Vazsonyi, & Flannery, 1994; Vazsonyi & Flannery, 1997). However, there is one noteworthy ethnic group difference. The customary use of physical punishment is associated with more aggressive behavior problems among European Americans but not among African Americans – although physical abuse predicts behavior problems equally well across these and other ethnic groups. Ascertaining the nature and cause of this ethnic group difference is one of the most pressing questions for research on the development of antisocial behavior (Farrington, Loeber, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 2003).
By conducting cross-cultural research, researchers can utilize the discovery of an ethnic group difference to test competing hypotheses about causal mechanisms (Rutter, this volume). In the current chapter, we consider whether the mechanisms linking harsh parenting and children's aggressive behavior problems generalize beyond middle-class Caucasians. Researchers often assume that a mechanism is generalizable across human populations, but the assumption is rarely tested. Discovering whether physical discipline and abuse are universal risk factors for the development of aggressive behavior problems has implications for theory as well as applications in prevention, intervention, and social policy.
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