Interpretations and Beliefs Associated with Children's Revenge Goals in Conflict Situations
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Prior research has found that children who pursue revenge goals in minor conflicts with peers are less accepted, have fewer friends, and have friendships of lower quality. Very little research has been devoted to understanding what factors might increase a child's tendency to seek revenge in minor conflicts of interest or in more provocative situations. The present study was designed to assess several variables that may increase revenge motivations in two contexts: minor conflicts of interest and major provocation situations. Of particular interest were the interpretations that children make in conflict, especially interpretations of rejection and disrespect. Two personal dispositions were also investigated, rejection sensitivity and disrespect sensitivity. The latter was assessed using a measure designed for this study. The study also examined whether beliefs about the legitimacy of aggression and beliefs about negative reciprocity moderate the association between negative interpretations and revenge goals.
Participants were seventh-grade adolescents (n = 367) from a middle school in a midwestern suburban school district. Students were shown vignettes (hypothetical situations) depicting conflict-of-interest situations and major provocation situations. In response to each vignette, participants rated how they would feel, how they would interpret the person's behavior, what their goals would be in the situation, and what behavioral strategies they would enact. Students also completed measures of rejection sensitivity, disrespect sensitivity, reciprocity beliefs, and beliefs about the legitimacy of aggression. Additionally, students indicated which of their grademates were sensitive to rejection and which were sensitive to disrespect.
Results indicated that adolescents endorsed more rejection and disrespect interpretations, revenge goals, and aggressive strategies in the major provocation situations than in the conflict-of-interest situations. Boys more strongly endorsed revenge goals and aggressive strategies than did girls, although there were not gender differences in rejection or disrespect interpretations. Both rejection and disrespect interpretations were significantly related to revenge goals in both types of situations. In both conflicts of interest and major provocation situations, rejection interpretations mediated the link between rejection sensitivity and revenge goals. In conflicts of interest, disrespect interpretations partially mediated the association between disrespect expectations and revenge goals. In major provocation situations, disrespect interpretations mediated the link between situational disrespect and revenge goals. Although rejection and disrespect interpretations were highly related, when their shared variance was partialed out "disrespect-free" rejection interpretations were associated with revenge goals in both conflicts of interest and in major provocation situations, whereas "rejection-free" disrespect only remained associated with revenge goals in conflict-of-interest situations. Additionally, both legitimacy of aggression beliefs and negative reciprocity beliefs were independently associated with revenge goals in both conflicts of interest and major provocation situations, even after controlling for gender differences and negative interpretations. Further, negative reciprocity beliefs moderated the association between negative interpretations and revenge goals such that adolescents who were high on negative reciprocity beliefs and negative interpretations were much more likely to seek revenge than adolescents who were low on negative reciprocity beliefs and high on negative interpretations. These findings suggest that the continued comparison of disrespect and rejection experiences is warranted and highlight the need to study the personal dispositions and beliefs that may increase revenge goals and vengeful behavior.
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