Low Parental Warmth and Violent Behavior

There are several reasons to expect that low warmth or rejection will cause violent behavior in children and adolescents. For young children, a lack of warmth may be highly frustrating, and we might expect them to express their frustration through physical aggression. Receiving parental warmth causes children to be happier (Deater-Deckard, 1996), and happier children are less likely to be physically aggressive. Children are also likely to become angry at rejecting parents and anger breeds physical aggression.

Long-term processes are also likely. Parental warmth is thought to foster the development of emotion regulation (Eiden, Edwards, & Leonard, 2007) which is needed to constrain aggressive impulses. Carroll (1977) explained that children in homes characterized by a lack of warmth may elect to identify with physically aggressive role models, promoting the intergenerational transmission of abuse and domestic violence in the distant future. Finally, children of rejecting or cold parents may be more likely to develop calloused traits, associated with aggression and violence. Cold parental treatment in childhood has been linked by theorists to adult aggressive pathology. In his parental acceptance-rejection theory (PART), Rohner (1986) proposed that rejected children are likely to develop into adults who are hostile and aggressive, have not developed positive self-esteem, and have trouble regulating their aggression and hostility (p. 86). Rejection by parents features prominently in Dutton’s work on angry, abusive husbands (e.g., Dutton et al., 1996).

There is some indication that the effects of parental rejection are quite potent. While links between child abuse and violence are unsurprising to most, some readers might be surprised to learn that the effects of child abuse on physical aggression are thought, by some, to be mediated by perceived parental rejection (Rohner, Bourque, & Elordi, 1996; Rohner, Kean, & Cournoyer, 1991). The learning of violence through modeling is obvious (e.g., Ito, 1994), and the development of hostile attribution bias is also easily understood, but it is also believed that the future violent behavior of abused children is due to the fact that abuse is interpreted as a sign of rejection (e.g., Hodges et al., 2003; Sim & Ong, 2005). Rejection leads to depression and anxiety, which lead to physical violence in relationships. Some authors have emphasized the importance of this dynamic in the etiology of adverse child outcomes. Ehrensaft (2009) states that “Researchers tend to concur that the impact of ... IPV [inter-parent violence] exposure and child maltreatment is centrally located in its effect on the quality of parent-child interactions” (p. 105).

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