Category: Child / Adolescent - Externalizing
Psychopathy, including callous-unemotional (CU) traits, and narcissism show consistent relations to adolescent aggression, but findings on the role of self-esteem in aggression have been mixed (e.g., Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt & Caspi, 2005; Falkenbach, Howe & Falki, 2012; Taylor, Davis-Kean & Malanchuk, 2007). These findings hint that the association between self-esteem and youth aggression is more complex than simply a bivariate relation with global self-esteem. The extent to which self-esteem is contingent on feedback from others may be relevant for aggression and its relation with narcissism or CU traits. Prior research notes that adults high in narcissism (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998) or psychopathic traits (Cale & Lilienfeld, 2006) respond aggressively when faced with an ego threat. Thus, self-esteem contingent on social feedback and indicative of susceptibility to ego threats may be relevant for aggression. This pattern may be especially relevant in adolescence when awareness of social feedback is high. It was hypothesized that contingent self-esteem would moderate the relations of psychopathy and narcissism with aggression in adolescents. Self-reported proactive and reactive aggression and peer-reported aggression served as the dependent variables.Participants were 156 adolescents (126 males, 29 females, 1 missing) aged 16-19, enrolled in a program for at-risk youth. Participants completed self-reported measures of narcissism, CU traits, global self-esteem, contingent self-esteem, and aggression. Peer-reported aggression was assessed through peer nomination.Contingent self-esteem, CU traits, and narcissism were significantly related to self-reported proactive and reactive aggression. Global self-esteem was not related to these variables. A series of multiple regression analyses were conducted to test the hypothesized moderations. CU traits and narcissism served as predictors, and the three indices of aggression were the criterion variables in separate models. Each model using contingent self-esteem as a moderator in the prediction of self-reported aggression yielded a significant interaction such that high contingent self-esteem strengthened the relations of CU traits and narcissism with proactive and reactive aggression. No interaction effects with global self-esteem were significant. The results seem to provide some insight on the complex role of self-esteem in the relations of CU traits and narcissism with adolescent aggression. The fragility of self-esteem rather than its global level may need further research and intervention attention. For example, decreasing sensitivity to peer opinion could help to reduce aggression in adolescents high in psychopathy or narcissism.