Emotional Desensitization to Violence Contributes to Adolescents’ Violent Behavior

Academic Article


  • © 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Many adolescents are exposed to violence in their schools, communities and homes. Exposure to violence at high levels or across multiple contexts has been linked with emotional desensitization, indicated by low levels of internalizing symptoms. However, the long-term consequences of such desensitization are unknown. This study examined emotional desensitization to violence, together with externalizing problems, as mediators of the relationship between exposure to violence in pre-adolescence and violent behavior in late adolescence. A community sample of youth (N = 704; 48 % female; 76 % African American, 22 % Caucasian) reported on their exposure to violence in multiple settings at ages 11, 13 and 18. Internalizing and externalizing problems were assessed at ages 11 and 13; violent behavior was measured at age 18. Structural Equation Modeling showed that exposure to high levels of violence at age 11 was associated with lower levels of internalizing problems (quadratic effect) at age 13, as was exposure to violence across multiple contexts (linear effect). In turn, fewer internalizing problems and more externalizing problems at age 13 predicted more violent behavior at age 18. The results suggest that emotional desensitization to violence in early adolescence contributes to serious violence in late adolescence.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Mrug S; Madan A; Windle M
  • Start Page

  • 75
  • End Page

  • 86
  • Volume

  • 44
  • Issue

  • 1