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Aggression in adolescents: an investigation of internalising emotions, emotion regulation and emotional clarity.

posted on 22.02.2017, 01:41 by Gresham, Daniel
While previous research has shown that various internalising emotions are related to aggressive behaviour, it is common for anxious or depressed individuals to present as shy, withdrawn, risk averse or behaviourally inhibited. The current thesis involves three empirical studies that investigated the association between aggressive behaviours during adolescence and internalising emotions, the ways in which these emotions are managed, and the clarity with which they are experienced. Two hundred and forty one youth (40.5% males) aged between 12 and 17 years (M = 15.22 years, SD = 1.60 years) completed the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire for Children and Adolescents (ERQ-CA), the Buss-Warren Aggression Questionnaire (AQ-15), the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED), the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and the difficulty identifying feelings sub-scale from the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). The first study examined the role of anger in the relationships between various internalising symptoms and direct and indirect aggression. Symptoms of panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and depression, but not social phobia, were positively correlated with each of anger, direct aggression and indirect aggression. However, when considered simultaneously in regression analyses, only symptoms of depression contributed to variance in the each of the anger and aggression variables. Further to this, when the emotion of anger was considered in the relationships between internalising symptoms and aggression, no direct relationships were observed. Instead, the data suggested indirect relationships, showing that internalising symptoms were associated with anger, and anger, in turn, was associated with each of the aggression variables. The findings from the first study provide further evidence for of the association between internalising emotions and aggression. These findings also suggest that the degree to which individuals experience anger which is associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms, may play an important role in their propensity to engage in aggressive behaviour. The second study examined the role of depressive symptoms in the relationships between two emotion regulation strategies (cognitive-reappraisal and expressive-suppression) and each of direct and indirect aggression. Cognitive reappraisal was significantly and negatively associated with direct, but not indirect aggression, while expressive-suppression was significantly and positively associated with indirect, but not direct, aggression. Further, significant indirect paths through depressive symptoms were observed between both reappraisal and suppression and each of direct and indirect forms of aggression. The findings from the second study provide further support for the notion that cognitive-reappraisal and expressive-suppression are important factors in aggressive behaviour through their association with aggression-related emotions such as depressive affect. The third study examined whether emotional clarity is related to aggressive behaviour through two emotion regulation strategies (cognitive-reappraisal and expressive-suppression). While emotional clarity was not associated with cognitive-reappraisal, it was negatively associated with expressive-suppression. Emotional clarity negatively and directly predicted both forms of aggression, however, neither emotion regulation strategy was a significant predictor. The data also suggested that emotional clarity might mediate the relationship between suppression and indirect aggression. Furthermore, the data showed that emotional clarity interacted with each of reappraisal and suppression to predict direct aggression. In the context of lower emotional clarity, greater use of reappraisal and suppression was associated with lower aggression scores. These findings suggest that emotional clarity is an important factor in the ways in which reappraisal and suppression use is associated with aggressive behaviour. Together these findings suggest that one’s experiences of anxiety and depressive symptoms play an important role in an individual’s propensity to engage in aggressive behaviour. Although the relationships between internalising emotions and aggression are not entirely clear, the current findings provide evidence that the ways in which individuals manage their feelings, and their competency to decipher their feelings with clarity, are important factors in understanding why internalising emotions might lead to externalising behaviours such as aggression.


Principal supervisor

Glenn Melvin

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology & School of Psychological Sciences

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences