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Emotions, Aggression, and Morality in ChildrenReview - Emotions, Aggression, and Morality in Children
Bridging Development and Psychopathology
by William F. Arsenio and Elizabeth A. Lemerise (Editors)
American Psychological Association, 2010
Review by Nora Bunford
Oct 30th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 44)

As its title suggests, the subject matter of the book, Emotions, Aggression, and Morality in Children, is the nature and development of morality in youth. Throughout the twelve chapters that comprise the book, particular attention is also paid by authors to constructs associated with morality, such as aggression and emotion regulation.

Authors of the first few chapters adopt a predominantly theoretical focus. Issues  such as historical and current perspectives on the distinction and interrelatedness of reasons and emotions are discussed. These discussions generally culminate in an emphasis on the coherence of human functioning and a rejection of both a view that champions the primacy of affect as well as one that calls for the primacy of cognition. Authors of the first chapter, for example, address the development of conscience. The authors present a summary of ways in which such development used to be understood as well as of the contemporary empirical literature attesting to the presence of pseudo-moral and moral thought in young children, underscoring the importance of the parent-child relationship in the development thereof. The second chapter touches upon more comprehensive philosophical issues that relate to morality, to highlight more broad and fundamental features of moral orientation: the sacredness of human life and the value of persons. While there is a relatively greater focus on abstract problems in the first few chapters, a strength of the rest of the book is that attention to foundational and conceptual issues, (e.g., the distincion between proactive and reactive aggression) are maintained.

Many of the following chapters take a developmental perspective and incorporate arguments related to the Social Information Processing (SIP) model, a hallmark theory on cognition and aggressive behavior. The third chapter offers innovative adaptations to this model, wherein affective components of decision making are incorporated into the originally exclusively cognitive SIP model. Empirical literature supporting the proposed revisions to the model is next presented and critically evaluated. Norably, critical evaluation of the empirical literature is a common thread across multiple chapters: authors neither oversimplify their presentation of the literature, nor omit significant details that aid the reader in appraising the quality of that literature. For example, measurement issues; ages, sexes, and cultural orientations of participants; as well as strengths and shortcomings in study designs are discussed.

Further adhering to academic rigor, as noted above, significant focus is placed on emotion regulation, well-in line with a recent focus in the empirical literature on the role emotion regulation plays in general well-being (e.g., Gross & John, 2003), a diverse range of psychopathologies (e.g., e.g., Weems & Silverman, 2006, Musser et al., 2011), and psychosocial treatments (e.g., Linehan, Bohus, & Lynch, 2007). In fact, a number of the authors challenge current models of conceptualization and treatment of childhood psychopathology that over-emphasize the role of cognition, generally, and of cold executive functions, more specifically, in decision-making. As also briefly attended to above, a number of chapters take a developmental perspective, which has also been receiving increased focused in the clinical psychology literature (Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2002). While the focus of most of the chapters is childhood and adolescence, the fourth chapter, for example, highlights the importance of childhood aggression and moral development from the perspective of pertinent long-term negative outcomes, such as antisocial behaviors, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and psychopathy. Chapters 5 through 9 encompass topics such as the neuroscience of empathy and moral development and the development of moral emotions in what is commonly considered as individualistic in contrast with collectivistic cultures. The former incoporates a summary of theory and empirical evidence on the relationship between different brain regions and the role of those in normative and dysfunctional empathic responding. Authors of the sixth chapter discuss the relationship between sympathy and empathy and between shame and guilt, related measurement issues, and diverse short- as well as long-term behavioral correlates of situational and dispositional empathy and of proneness to shame and guilt. The seventh chapter covers theory and research on callous-unemotional traits in youth, reactive and proactive aggression, and relational and physical aggression. The eighth chapter provides an in-depth critical perspective on the incorporation of emotion in the SIP model. Specifically, designs employed by studies in the available literature are examined, with a specific focus on ways in which constructs of interest have been manipulated, and the implications thereof for future research. The first nine chapters, which focus primarily on theory and basic science findings, are followed by the closing three chapters, which champion a more translational perspective, in that findings from basic science are applied to issues of assessment and intervention. The focus of the tenth chapter is on the measurement of anger and aggression in children. The authors begin with a historical overview of the assessment of these constructs, followed by reviews of questionnaire-based and laboratory-based findings, and finally by recommendations for the further accumulation of empirical evidence. A strength of the eleventh chapter is its consideration of ethnicity and poverty as impactful on violent behaviors. The final chapter is on the Coping Power Program, an empirically supported intervention for emotion dysregulation and social-cognitions in aggressive youth. Loosely following the Deployment-Focused Model of Intervention Development (Weisz et al., 2005), the authors cite literature on efficacy, and effectiveness trials, and dissemination research relevant to their program. The authors reflect on this literature and discuss ways in which provides support for the effectiveness of the program for reducing aggressive behaviors and improving self-regulation skills.

The editors of Emotions, Aggression, and Morality in Children found an impressive balance between selecting topics that allow for the book to be unique but also ensuring that most commonly discussed pertinent issues in the literature are also covered. Specifically, it is not often the case that readings outside of philosophy address concepts of morality but incorporate those with less abstract but related psychological correlates investigated in empirical research. It is most unique to be applying a developmental perspective to the merging of these literatures while simultaneously encompassing a critical perspective of findings from basic to translational science, as it applies to the continuum of care (i.e., from assessment to treatment dissemination), and within the context of cultural factors.

These strengths allow for Emotions, Aggression, and Morality in Children to be appropriate for a range of audiences, such as researchers and graduate students. Most chapters are written with a relatively high level of technicaility, indicating a graduate-level understanding of child development is necessary for one to be able to fully appreciate this book.  

 


References

Cicchetti, D. & Rogosch, F. A. (2002). A developmental psychopathology perspective on adolescence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 6–20.

Gross, J.J. and John, O.P. (2003) Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: implications for affect, relationships, and wellbeing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348–362.

Linehan, M. M., Bohus, M., & Lynch, T. R. (2007). Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Pervasive Emotion Dysregulation: Theoretical and Practical Underpinnings. In Gross, J.J. (Ed). Handbook of Emotion Regulation. Guilford Press, New York.

Musser, E. D., Backs, R. W., Schmitt, C. F., Ablow, J. C., Measelle, J. R,  & Nigg, J. T. (2011). Emotion Regulation via the Autonomic Nervous System in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39, 841-852.

Weems, C.F., & Silverman W.K. (2006). An integrative model of control: Implications for understanding emotion regulation and dysregulation in childhood anxiety. Journal of Affective Disorders, 91, 113-124.

 

© 2012 Nora Bunford

 

Nora Bunford is pursuing a PhD in Clinical Child Psychology at Ohio University. She received her B.A. degrees in Psychology and Philosophy from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her M.S. degree in Clinical-Counseling Psychology from Illinois State University. While completing her doctoral studies in Psychology, Nora is also concurrently pursuing a master's degree in Philosophy. Her academic interests center around Bioethics, Psychology and its theoretical underpinnings, and research science. E-mail: nb243610@ohio.edu

 


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