NUMBER 1138 • 26 FEBRUARY • VIOLENCE AND TOUCH DEPRIVATION
In a model we have developed based on our research, violent children/adolescents come to experience these problems in part because they are lacking verbal and physical intimacy with peers and parents or other adults. They also experience a biochemical/physiological imbalance that may lead to underresponsivity to stimulation and hence the need for arousal-seeking behavior, as has been noted by others (Dodge et al., 1990; Orbach, 1999). Interactions very early in life that are physically neglectful/abusive may be the cause.
Programs that are physically interactive may help reduce physical/verbal interaction deprivation in these adolescents. In many intervention programs, verbal intimacy is provided by psychotherapy. Rarely is the verbal therapy complemented by a positive physical contact experience. Thus, we conducted a massage therapy intervention: the massage therapy reduced biochemical/physiological imbalances in aggressive adolescents (Diego et al., 2002) and in adolescents with conduct disorder (Field et a l., 1992). Having reduced the verbal/physical stimulation deprivation and the biochemical/physiological imbalance, these adolescents would be expected to engage in less stimulus-seeking, risk-taking, and angry/aggressive/violent behavior. Studies we conducted that led to this model and tentatively documented what we consider the origins of violent behavior, as well as potential interventions, are briefly reviewed in the remainder of this paper.
Angry, Risk-Taking Adolescents Lack Verbal and Physical Intimacy Experiences
In a study on risk-taking (Gonzalez et al., 1994), a questionnaire comprised of several self-report scales, including two standardized scales and several others we had developed (Field & Yando, 1991), was administered to 440 adolescents (attending a public school) to assess differences between high and low danger risk-takers on relationship and personality variables. Danger risk-takers reported less intimacy with their mothers and greater drug use than their non-risk-taking peers. Similarly, in another study, adolescents’ intimacy with parents and friends was noted to be a protective factor (Field et al., 1995). In that study, adolescents’ perceived levels of intimacy with their mother, father, and close friend were examined as a function of demographic, family, school, and psychological variables. Students who had greater intimacy with their parents had greater interest in school, higher self-esteem, lower depression, and lower risk-taking scores.
We then added items to the above questionnaire to tap variables related to anger in a sample of 89 high school seniors attending a private high school (Silver, Field, et al., 2000). One yes-no item stated: “Sometimes I get so angry that I worry I will become violent.” In this middle to upper socioeconomic status sample, 58 students responded no and 31 responded yes. Splitting the groups by yes-no responses, the anger group (versus the nonanger group) had: (1) less intimacy with their parents, (2) more frequent use of marijuana and cocaine, (3) a lower grade point average, and (4) higher depression scores.
Verbal and Physical Intimacy May Be Lacking Early in Life
In an attempt to investigate whether verbal and physical intimacy was lacking early in life in aggressive/violent children, we studied young children with conduct disorder and their mothers (Field et al., 1987). The children were observed in free play and puzzle completion tasks both alone and with their mothers. The mothers of conduct disorder children reported more self-depression and less nurturant child-rearing practices. The conduct disorder children were more hyperactive and less interactive during the play sessions, and their mothers were less interactive and more disapproving than the other mothers. In a study on social anxiety and aggression in behaviorally disordered children (Gonzalez, Field, et al., 1996), 39 boys (mean age = 10 years) attending classes for behaviorally disturbed children were given questionnaires on trait anxiety, social anxiety, empathy, depression and self-esteem, and the teachers rated them on aggression. It was hypothesized that anxiety and empathy attenuate aggression. Contrary to our hypothesis, anxiety and empathy scores were not correlated with aggression. However, the children’s depression scores were high.
Field, T. (2002). Violence and touch deprivation in adolescents. Adolescence, Winter, 2002