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Am J Prev Med. 1996 Sep-Oct;12(5 Suppl):75-81.

Attributional bias and reactive aggression.

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  • 1Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106, USA.


This article looks at a cognitive behavioral intervention designed to reduce minority youths' (Latino and African-American boys) levels of reactive peer-directed aggression. The BrainPower Program trains aggressive boys to recognize accidental causation in ambiguous interactions with peers. The objective of this research is to evaluate the effectiveness of this attribution retraining program in reducing levels of reactive, peer-directed aggression. This research hypothesizes that aggressive young boys' tendency to attribute hostile intentions to others in ambiguous social interactions causes display of inappropriate, peer-directed aggression. A reduction in attributional bias should produce a decrease in reactive physical and verbal aggression directed toward peers. A 12-session, attributional intervention has been designed to reduce aggressive students' tendency to infer hostile intentions in peers following ambiguous peer provocations. The program trains boys to (1) accurately perceive and categorize the available social cues in interactions with peers, (2) attribute negative outcomes of ambiguous causality to accidental or uncontrollable causes, and (3) generate behaviors appropriate to these retrained attributions. African-American and Latino male elementary-school students (N = 384), in grades four-six, served as subjects in one of three groups: experimental attribution retraining program, attention training, and no-attention control group. Three broad categories of outcome data were collected: teacher and administrator reports of behavior, independent observations of behavior, and self-reports from participating students. Process measures to assess implementation fidelity include videotaped training sessions, observations of intervention sessions, student attendance records, and weekly team meetings. The baseline data indicated that students who were evenly distributed across the four sites were not significantly different on the baseline indicators: student cognitions, teacher perceptions of behavior, and student suspension rates. Substantial evidence has shown that aggressive boys tend to attribute hostile intentions to peers, often resulting in inappropriate retaliatory aggression. The BrainPower Program was designed to determine whether psychoeducational strategies in a school context are effective in reducing attributional bias and whether such reductions significantly reduce aggressive behavior.

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