Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2018

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Douglas W. Nangle

Second Committee Member

Cynthia A. Erdley

Third Committee Member

Shannon K. McCoy

Additional Committee Members

Rebecca Schwartz-Mette

Emily A.P. Haigh

Abstract

Social anxiety is linked to more covert forms of aggressive behavior, particularly reactive and relational aggression in early adolescent and young adult samples. Adolescents with social anxiety and those who engage in reactive relational aggression are also more likely to have difficulties regulating emotions (e.g., anger) and show maladaptive cognitive coping styles (e.g., rumination). The goal of the present study was to assess the relationship between social anxiety and reactive relational aggression in adolescents (14-17 years), combining the form and function of aggression, and to examine trait anger and anger rumination as underlying factors that may explain the relationship between social anxiety and reactive relational aggression. The current study hypothesized that adolescents with social anxiety would engage in reactive relational aggression through the use of anger rumination, and this relationship would only be present in adolescents with higher levels of trait anger.

High school adolescents in grades 9 to 12 (N=105; Mage = 15.43; 61% female) were recruited through their local school and community to complete a 30-minute, battery of questionnaires examining social anxiety, trait anger, anger rumination, and reactive relational aggression. Adolescents completed questionnaires anonymously via an online survey platform, Qualtrics, and were subsequently compensated for their time.

Results supported study hypotheses. Simple regression analyses found that social anxiety was positively related to trait anger, anger rumination and reactive relational aggression. Trait anger and anger rumination were also positively correlated with reactive relational aggression. A conditional process analysis was conducted to test the major study hypothesis. Adolescents with social anxiety were more likely to engage in reactive relational aggression if they ruminated about experiences that created anger, and this relationship was present in adolescents with higher levels of trait anger. Gender differences were also explored. Higher rates of social anxiety and anger rumination were found in females. No other gender differences were found.

Overall, socially anxious adolescents showed a greater tendency to engage in reactive relational aggression adding to the current literature. Difficulties regulating negative emotions, like anger, and ineffective cognitive coping strategies, such as anger rumination, were precipitating factors that likely maintained socially anxious and aggressive behaviors.

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