Relations between the hostile attribution bias and the positive illusory bias in aggressive children and their mothers: the role of schemas and intergenerational influences

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Previous research has demonstrated that aggressive children exhibit both a hostile attribution bias (Hudley, 2008), in which they attribute hostile intent to a peer in an ambiguous situation, and a positive illusory bias (Owens et al., 2007), in which they believe they are more socially competent than in actuality. However, these constructs have never been examined within the same sample of aggressive children. The current study sought to explore relations between these specific social-cognitive biases, social expectations, self-perceptions, and aggressive behavior, as well as between parents' and children's social perceptions. New hypothetical vignette measures were developed to examine expected peer liking in parents and children, and a pilot study was conducted to refine them. A sample of 67 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 15 and their mothers were recruited from a previously identified longitudinal sample screened for aggression. Participants completed the vignette measures, in addition to several self-report measures, and teacher and peer reports were obtained as well. Several hypotheses and exploratory analyses were proposed, addressing patterns of relations across the constructs of interest. The results of the current study indicated that the positive illusory bias and hostile attribution bias were not related within children, and so may be differentially related to proactively versus reactively aggressive children, respectively. Examination of the expected peer liking vignettes revealed that children who expect to be liked do not demonstrate positive illusory bias, but rather have developed less biased schemas and positive peer relationships. Additionally, analysis of intergenerational influences suggested that relations between parent and child social cognitions were strongest for same-gender dyads (i.e., mothers and daughters). The current study provides several implications for future research on children's social cognitions and proposes that aggressive children's social-cognitive schemas should be addressed as part of behavioral interventions, particularly within a family context. Overall, this study indicates that social perceptions and schemas are important to aggressive children's social and behavioral functioning and provides some indications that social-cognitive processes are related across parents and children.

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Clinical psychology