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The Family as a Context for Learning Aggression and Violence Steven Swinford, PhD Department of Sociology & Anthropology Montana State University. Aggression vs. Violence. Aggression – more about intent V iolence – more about action

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The Family as a Context for Learning Aggression and ViolenceSteven Swinford, PhDDepartment of Sociology & AnthropologyMontana State University

aggression vs violence

Aggression vs. Violence

Aggression – more about intent

Violence – more about action

One can learn/develop aggressive thought and behavioral patterns without expressing them in the form of violent action.

We are interested in both

As well as both physical and non-physical violent actions

learning centered approach

Learning-centered approach

How experiences with violence can contribute to escalations in aggressive thoughts and/or learning violent actions.

Family experiences have been established as important - backgrounds of family violence offenders

We learn good/healthy patterns as well as unhealthy ones



A way to conceptualize the process of learning:

Observational – we see it

Enactive – we do it/involved in it

Content can be:

Generalized – acceptable in the context

Specific – reproduce specific actions

modeling in families

Modeling in Families

Particularly strong

Emotional connections enhance modeling

Abusive parents provide specific and powerful models for learning

Plethora of evidence that aggression can be learned through observation

Victimhood is also modeled (we call it victim-proneness)

intergenerational transmission

Intergenerational Transmission

Observation of parental violence has been shown to be a more powerful predictor of future couple violence than experience violence from a parent (as a child).

It is the actors/roles we observe PLUS the observation or experience that is powerful

On the good side, approximately two-thirds of us do NOT replicate observed violence in our later adult couple relationships

why is the context of the family so potentially violent

Why is the context of the family so potentially violent?


Intensity of Involvement

Right to Influence

Status differentials built into roles (and they changes over time)


Extensive knowledge of biographies

what is suggested

What is suggested?

Interventions to address pan-violent behavioral patterns

Policies to reduce violent exposure in the home for children

Empowering victims (remember that modeling occurs here as well)

Greater awareness that observation counts too!