Normative Aggressive Beliefs Scale
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About Normative Aggressive Beliefs Scale
When we began our initial investigation of normative beliefs (Huesmann, Guerra, Miller, et al., 1992; Huesmann, Guerra, Zelli, et al., 1992), we recognized a number of the difficult measurement problems inherent in any attempt to assess children’s beliefs about the acceptability of aggressive behaviors. Children’s reports could be expected to be highly sensitive to the demand characteristics of the questioning and to the perceived social desirability of the possible responses. Children’s beliefs could be expected to change radically with age, and young children might not have any stable beliefs of their own and might simply respond to situational cues.
In those initial studies (Huesmann, Guerra, Miller, et al., 1992; Huesmann, Guerra, Zelli, et al., 1992), we derived a 35-item scale for assessing beliefs about the approval of aggression. Beginning with the conception that beliefs about aggression are cognitions about the acceptability of specific aggressive behaviors in specific contexts, we had developed a set of 88 questions that might be appropriate for elementary school children.
Taking Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975) categorization of social behaviors on the basis of “action, target, context, and time” as a point of departure, we described aggressive acts that varied in characteristics of actor, target, and provocation. Specifically, these items varied on four dimensions: severity of provocation, the severity of response, the gender of provoker, and gender of the responder.
The questions followed a format that Guerra and Slaby (1990; Slaby & Guerra, 1988) had developed and asked children, “How often do you think is okay: never, sometimes, often, or always.” For example, one question was “It’s okay for a boy, Tom, to hit a girl, Julie, if Julie says something bad to Tom first.” The strong-weak provocation manipulation was accomplished by substituting “if Julie hits” for “if Julie says something bad to.” Similarly, the severity of response manipulation was accomplished by changing “It’s okay to hit ” to “It’s okay to scream at .”
In the scale’s first version, questions were included to assess not only whether children thought a behavior was acceptable but whether they thought other children and other adults would think it was acceptable (similar to our notion of perceived social norms). However, our results revealed that it did not matter whether one asked a child whether the child thought the behavior was okay or asked the child about whether most children thought the behavior was okay.
If a child believed most children thought it was okay, the child thought it was okay himself or herself. In other words, the children’s normative beliefs were highly correlated with their perceptions of children’s social norms. During the process of scale refinement in these studies, these items were deleted along with other items that had low item-total correlations. The final 35-item scale derived in these studies was tested on a sample of 293 inner-city, mostly minority second- through fourth-grade children.
The results revealed that one could reliably assess individual differences in normative beliefs on a variety of subscales with these questions (Huesmann, Guerra, Miller, et al., 1992; Huesmann, Guerra, Zelli, et al., 1992). These included Overall Approval of Aggression at Children (a = .90), Aggression at Boys (a = .83), Aggression at Girls (or = .84), Aggression Under Weak Provocation (a = .80), and Aggression Under Strong Provocation (a = .84). The 3-month stability of scores on the Overall Aggression at Children scale was .48, with the stabilities on the subscales ranging from .36 to .47.
The children’s scores on many of these preliminary scales also correlated very significantly with their self-reports of aggressive behavior for both boys and girls and significantly with peer nominations of aggressive behavior for boys. Although the results of these initial studies demonstrated that children’s approval of aggression could be measured reliably, they also suggested that the scale would benefit from further refinement.
The correlations with actual aggressive behavior were not very significant except when the aggressive behavior was also measured by self-reports. The differences one might expect as a function of age and gender were not large, and the questionnaire was long for use with early elementary school children. Finally, the questionnaire seemed to be measuring more than one belief structure. Questions assessing what we have now defined as personal normative beliefs were mixed with questions assessing perceived social norms for adults.
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