s a person’s self-conceptinorder to deliver psychological pain. (Infante, 1995) Studies of verbalaggressionhave focused primarily on children and adolescents in educational and socialsettings. Very few studies were found to examine verbal aggression in adultsin theworkplace.
(Ebbesen, Duncan, Konecni, 1974) The consequences of verbalaggression in the workplace can lead to social isolation, job related stress,healthrelated problems, as well as problems in career advancement. It thereforeshouldbe considered important, for the individual and management, to identify andaddress the causes of verbal aggression. This program attempts to understand verbal aggression by 1) identifying thevarious functions of verbal aggression. 2) identifying the antecedentconditions ofverbal aggression.
3) Avoiding the antecedent conditions of verbalaggression. MethodSubjectThe subject, Shirley J. , is a 49 year old African American female. ShirleyJ.Order now
hasseveral advanced degrees and is employed as a school psychologist in ametropolitan school district. She is married with two adult children. Thesubjectreadily agreed that the target behavior, verbal aggression, is a problem asitinterferes with her relationships with others. She was enthusiastic in herdesire toreduce, if not eliminate, this behavior.
It would seem that self-monitoringforverbal aggression and antecedent control would be valuable as it would allowforconsistent avoidance of verbal aggression. As a school psychologist thesubject wasvery familiar with the basic principles of applied behavioral analysis andfrequentlyoffered programmatic suggestions. A behavioral contract was developedjointlybetween the therapist and subject. The contract outlined the targetbehavior,success criteria, and individual responsibilities of the therapist andsubject. (seeAppendix A)ApparatusA basic checklist was used to document the frequency of verbal aggression onadaily basis. The checklist was designed to track only the occurrence of thebehavior.
It was felt by the therapist that the content of the verballyaggressivemessage would be too open for subjective interpretation and that nomeaningfuldata would be gained from such documentation. In addition the subject madefrequent comments of significant success or failure in avoiding verbalaggressionfor discussion with the therapist. The weekly discussions were used toevaluate theappropriateness of the procedures used and make any necessary adjustments totheprogram. ProcedureFor the first two weeks of the program no intervention was applied. Giventhatthe subject self-reported that verbal aggression was a problem it wasimportant todetermine if the frequency of the behavior merited intervention.
Therefore,thesubject documented the daily frequency of verbal aggression. The results ofthebaseline period revealed a high rate of verbal aggression. (see Appendix B)Giventhe results of the baseline data as well as the demanding, often stressful,nature ofthe subjects job, it was mutually agreed that reducing verbal aggressionwould bethe focus of the program. Verbal aggression was defined as cursing, yelling, and screaming at others.
Theagreed upon goals of the program was to decrease verbal aggression by 75% ofbaseline for four consecutive weeks. Treatment would consist of identifyingandavoiding the antecedent conditions to verbal aggression. Avoidance of theantecedents is considered less restrictive, more proactive, and mosteffective. During the initial consultation it was determined that the antecedentconditionsincluded, but was not limited to: work stress, time of day, verbal behaviorof others(ie.
tone of voice, inflection of voice and content of conversation, etc. ),and non-verbal behavior of others (ie. facial expression, body posture, eye contact,etc. ). Inaddition, the subject was required to self monitor for the followingantecedents: clenched fists, tight jaw, rapid heart beat, and the emotions of anger,frustration anddisappointment. Lastly, it was suggested by Infante (1995) that appropriatestrategymust be taken to prevent verbal aggression from escalating.
Successful avoidance of the antecedent conditions consisted of removingoneselffrom stressful situations, when possible, as well as not responding verballywhenprovoked. Weekly consultation revealed that verbal aggression was most oftenused to: 1) Escape demand situations. 2) Avoid demand situations. 3)Relieve jobstress. The subject was to document the frequency of verbal aggression andrecordthe circumstances of significant success or failure during the work week fordiscussion at weekly consultation sessions. A schedule of reinforcement was developed for the subject.
Thereinforcementwas to be given for successful avoidance of verbal aggression. Reinforcementincluded: five minutes alone for ‘quiet time’, when possible, or a short,silent prayer. Considering the stress and escalating nature of verbal aggression time alonewasconsidered appropriate for ‘cool down’. If time alone was not possible orconvenient the subject would say a short prayer when provoked. ResultsThe results of the baseline phase revealed what was considered anextraordinarilyhigh rate of verbal aggression. However, after the first week of datacollection itwas realized that verbal aggression was not operationally defined.
Thesubjectconsidered verbal aggression on much broader terms than did the therapistwhichincluded subjective, rather than objective, behavior observations. Weeklyconsultation sessions revealed that cursing was the most common manifestationofthe target behavior. When correctly defined using objective terms a decreaseinverbal aggression was noted. Based on the results of baseline data it wasmutuallyagreed that 4 to 8 episodes of aggression per day was significantly high andmeritedintervention. The results of the intervention phase of treatment revealed a sharp increaseofverbal aggression over the first three weeks. This increase is thought to bedue toextinction.
Afterwards, a gradual decrease of verbal aggression was notedduringweeks 4 through 9. No data was collected during week 10 due to subjectillness. The treatment phase ended with a weekly average of one episode of verbalaggression. After week five the subject stated that she no longer deliveredthereinforcement after the behavior.
She reported that the ability to controlheremotions was in itself reinforcing and would maintain the behavior. DiscussionThe results of this program show that verbal aggression can be successfullydecreased by identifying and avoiding its antecedent conditions. As statedpreviously, the subject used verbal aggression for escape from demanding ordifficult situations, relief from stress, and avoidance of demanding ordifficultsituations. The behavior appears to be maintained through positivereinforcement. Because the subject is in a position of some power and influence there wererelatively few consequences for the behavior. Ebbesen, Duncan and Konecni(1974) suggested that verbal aggression could be reinforced and maintained insucha manner.
Since the most common form of verbal aggression was cursing, themethod of identifying and avoiding the antecedents proved very successful. Infante(1995) used a similar method with young students. When replicating thisprogramit may be appropriate to focus on the positive behavior rather than thenegative. Instead of documenting the frequency of verbal aggression it may have beenbetterto document the frequency of successful avoidance of verbal aggression. Inthisway we would help to internalize the strategy to maintain the behavior, aswell ashaving a more positive and constructive program.
A question raised by GolinandRomanowski (1977) was is there a sex difference in the rate and target ofverbalaggression. Although this question was not investigated in the currentprogram, itdoes raise an intriguing question for future study. ReferencesEbbessen, E. B. , Duncan, B. , ; Konecni, V.
J. (1974). Effects of Content of Verbal Aggression: A Field Experiment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 11, 192-204. Golin, S. , ; Romanowski, M.
(1977). Verbal Aggression as a Function of Sexof Subject and Sex of Target. Journal of Psychology, 97, 141-149. Infante, D. A.
(1995). Teaching Students to Understand and Control Verbal Aggression. Communication Education, 44, 51-63.