Examining hostile attribution of intent, relational provocation, and physical aggression in girls
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Hostile attribution of intent (HAI) is a social information processing pattern that reflects a distorted interpretation of ambiguous social situations as overly negative, personal, and aggressive, leading to further aggression. Previous research has documented the existence of HAI in connection with relational aggression among adolescent girls, but little is known about the role of HAI and physical aggression in this population. This qualitative study explored the experiences of adolescent girls involved in physical fights with another girl in order to determine the types of provocation that led to physical aggression. Participants were 11 girls, ages 15 to 17 years, and 7 parent participants of the girls. School disciplinary records were used to identify participants for the study. All girls who had a disciplinary record for engaging in a physical fight with another female student were invited to participate. A semi-structured interview was conducted, and the parents were given a single-question survey related to socioeconomic status. Data were analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research as described by Hill, Thompson, and Williams (1997). The study participants reported that relational provocations, such as “talking mess” and “mean mugging,” led to physical aggression. They also noted that the type of help offered by adults to reduce conflict was not effective. Many participants reported receiving messages from adults implying it was acceptable to fight, provided that the participant won the fight. Finally, participants reported that disrespect is an acceptable and expected reason to get into a physical fight.