Verbal aggressiveness in communication has been studied to examine the underlying message of aggressive behavior and to gain control over occurrences. Infante and Wigley (1986) defined verbal aggressiveness as "a personality trait that predisposes persons to attack the self-concepts of other people instead of, or in addition to, their positions on topics of communication". Verbal aggressiveness is thought to be mainly a destructive form of communication, but it can produce positive outcomes. Verbal aggressiveness consists of offset constructive types which can produce satisfaction in relationships and destructive types that have a negative impact on relationships. Infante and Wrigley (1986) defined aggressive behavior in interpersonal communication as " a joint product of the individual's aggressive traits and the way the person perceives the aggressive inhibitors and disinhibitors in the given situation."
Types of messages
Reasons or causes
There are four primary reasons or causes suggested by Infante, Trebing, Shepard, and Seeds (1984), which are:
- Frustration—in which a goal is blocked by someone or having to deal with an individual deemed "unworthy" of one's time
- Social learning—in which the aggressive behavior has been learned from observing other individuals
- Psychopathology—in which an individual attacks other persons because of unresolved issues
- Argumentative skill deficiency—in which an individual lacks verbal skills to deal with an issue, and therefore resorts to verbal aggressiveness
These motivators of verbal aggressiveness contribute to an individual with a verbally aggressive personality trait.
More recently Shaw, Kotowski, Boster, and Levine (2012) demonstrated that verbal aggression may be caused by variation in prenatal testosterone exposure. They conducted two studies in which they measured the length of the second and fourth digits (2D:4D) on each hand of participants, an indicator of amount of prenatal androgen exposure, and conducted a questionnaire to determine the verbal aggressiveness of participants. A negative correlation between 2D:4D and verbal aggressiveness was determined.
Self-concept damage is the most fundamental effect, which can cause long lasting and more harmful results than the temporal effects. The more temporal and short term effects are: hurt feelings, anger, irritation, embarrassment, discouragement, humiliation, despair, and depression. Verbal aggressiveness that harms an individual's self-concept can follow an individual throughout their life. For instance, Infante and Wigley (1986) state "the self-concept damage done by teasing a child about an aspect of physical appearance can endure for a lifetime and exert an enormous impact on the amount of unhappiness experience". Verbal aggressiveness is also a major cause of violence. When verbal aggressiveness escalates, it often turns into physical violence.
The constructive traits which produce satisfaction and increase relationship contentment by helping to increase understandings between the different positions are assertiveness and argumentativeness. Assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness, but assertive individuals often possess traits like dominance, independence, and competitiveness. Infante and Rancer (1982) define argumentativeness as the "trait-like behavior that predisposes an individual to take a stand on controversial issues and attack the positions that other people take". Argumentative individuals focus on the topic rather than attacking an individual. Productive argumentativeness can produce positive outcomes in communication through challenging and defending standpoints through justification. This allows for reasoning between individuals to resolve issue and terminate the disagreement. Argumentative encounters such as this have a positive correlation to relational satisfaction.
The destructive traits, hostility and verbal aggressiveness, lead to dissatisfaction in communication and relationship deterioration. Destructive verbal aggressiveness is used for revenge, teasing, and to manipulate others. Verbal aggressiveness is destructive and links to the hostility trait. Unlike argumentativeness, verbal aggressiveness is focused on defending one's identity and attacking others; not trying to resolve the dispute but instead attacking individuals self-concept. Also, verbally aggressive individuals often do not provide as much evidence to support their standpoint. In many cases these individuals possess verbally aggressive traits because they lack the skills to argue rationally and effectively, and therefore use verbally aggressive messages as their defense mechanism. Individuals with argumentative skill deficiency often see violence as their only alternative. These aggressive tactics cause a digression by using personal attacks which do not allow for the disagreement to ever be resolved.
In romantic relationships
The manners in which conflicts are dealt with in romantic relationships differ among each partnership. There are numerous concepts, qualities, and traits that predict the verbal aggressiveness of each partner within a romantic relationship. How couples deal with arguments and controversy has been a major topic amongst researchers for many years. When resolving a dispute is the objective amongst a couple, each individual's argumentative traits come into play. The way in which couples engage and act during a discrepancy can play a chief role in the satisfaction of each partner.
Verbal aggressiveness often results in deterioration of relational satisfaction. Romantically involved couples can perceive verbally aggressive messages as unaffectionate communication. Infante and et al. (1990) found that "an act of verbal aggression produces a negative emotional reaction (e.g., anger); the negative reaction can remain covert, leaving a trace effect that can combine additively with subsequent verbal aggression. If the effect if not dissipated through some means, it can lead to the formation of intensions to behave with physical aggression toward the origin or perceived origin of the verbal aggression". Verbal aggressiveness is impacted by the commitment levels of the partners in a relationship. Research findings have shown a negative correlation between commitment and destructive confrontation, and also commitment and communicative acts of abuse.
The arguments that occur between romantic partners play a crucial role in the quality and course of relationships. Arguing successfully means, at least in some part, that a couple will avoid unwarranted negativity and approach discrepancies in confidence that discussing dissimilarities of opinion will supply positive results. Many couples refocus the argument and attack the other partner rather than staying on track with the differences of opinion on a subject. Unhappily married couples tend to use a more destructive approach to conflict. Verbal aggressiveness is resorted to in conflict and controversy. Infante and et al. (1990) found that in violent marriages more character attacks and competence attacks are used during disputes. Happily married couples were more likely to resolve disputes without the use of verbally aggressive messages, using instead argumentativeness to negotiate an agreement.
Communication between parents and children influences children and can have important effects for the well-being of the child. It can also have important influences on the relationship between the child and the parent. Muris, Meesters, Morren, and Moorman (2004) found that, "attachment style and perceived parent rearing styles that included low levels of emotional warmth were more likely to result in anger and hostility in children". Also, Riesch, Anderson, and Krueger (2006) argued that "parent-child communication can help reduce risk behaviors through individual risk factors such as self-esteem, academic achievement, and parental involvement in monitoring". Knapp, Stafford, and Daly (1986) stated, "verbally aggressive behavior is contextual: most parents likely have said something verbally aggressive to their child at some point, even if they later regretted doing so".
The parental use of verbal aggressiveness can cause a disruption in the relationship between the child and the parent. When a parent uses verbally aggressive behavior children are often frightened, which leads to avoidance of the parent. The verbal aggressiveness causes the child to feel fear and anxiety and therefore the child loses trust in their relationship. Parental verbal aggressiveness has a negative correlation with relational satisfaction and closeness to their children. Studies found that parents who are verbally aggressive tend to have children who are also verbally aggressive. This is proven through Bandura's social learning theory. Children who are consistently around their parents are likely to model their behavior.
According to the attachment theory, all humans are dependent on one or several individuals during the early years of their lives. It is important to understand how a parent's verbal aggressiveness can change the attachment style the child has toward the parent. If a parent is shown as attacking a child's self-image, it is likely that these attacks will hinder the growth of a confident attachment style. Styron and Janoff-Bulman (1997) found, "more than 60% of participants who had been verbally abused as children had reported an insecure attachment style".
Authoritative parents are characterized by encouraging and democratic behaviors. These types of parents value verbal "give-and-take." Authoritarian parents prefer punishment as a way to control their child's behavior and they value obedience from their children. Parents low in verbal aggression tend to adopt an authoritative parenting style and that is positively related to a secure attachment style.
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- Infante, D.A., Trebing, J.D., Shephard, P.E., & Seeds, D.E. (1984). "The Relationship of Argumentativeness to Verbal Aggression". Southern Speech Communication Journal, 50, p. 67-77.
- Shaw, A.Z., Kotowski, M.R., Boster, F.J., & Levine, T.R. (2012). The effect of prenatal sex hormones on the development of verbal aggression. Journal of Communication, 62, 778-793.
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- Weger, H. (2006). "Associations Among Romantic Attachment, Argumentativeness, and Verbal Aggressiveness in Romantic Relationships". Argumentation and Advocacy, 43, p. 29-40.
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- Rill, L., Baiocchi, E., Hopper, M., Denker, K., & Olson, L.N. (2009). "Exploration of the Relationship between Self-Esteem, Commitment, and Verbal Aggressiveness in Romantic Dating Relationships". Communication Reports, 22(2),p. 102-113.
- Muris, P., Meesters, C., Morren, M., & Moorman, L. (2004). "Anger and Hostility in Adolescents: Relationships with Self-Report Attachment Style and Perceived Parental Rearing Styles". Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, p. 257-264.
- Riesch, S.K., Anderson, L.S., & Krueger, H.A. (2006). "Parent-Child Communication Processes: Preventing Children's Health-Risk Behaviors". Journal for Specialist in Pediatric Nursing, 11, p. 41-46.
- Knapp, M.L., Stafford, L., & Daly, J.A. (1986). "Regrettable Messages: Things People Wish They Haven't Said". Journal of Communication, 36,p. 40-58.
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- Ainsworth, M.D., & Bowldy, J. (1991). "Ethological Approach to Personality Development" American Psychologist, 46,p333-341
- Styron, T., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1997). "Childhood Attachment and Abuse: Long-term Effects of Adult Attachment, Depression, and Conflict Resolution". Child Abuse and Neglect, 21,p. 1015-2023.
- Bayer, C.L., & Cegala, D.J. (1992). "Trait Verbal Aggressiveness and Argumentativeness: Relations with Parenting Style". Western Journal of Communication, 56, p. 302-310.