Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PhD)


Center for Psychological Studies

First Advisor

Mark B Sobell

Second Advisor

Edward R Simco

Third Advisor

Lenore Walker


African Americans, Aggression, Coping, Delinquency, Problem Solving, Trauma


The role of trauma has been implicated in the etiology of juvenile delinquency (Esbensen & Huizinga, 1991; Dulmus, 2003). This is especially pronounced among inner city minority youth. Traumatic experiences can hinder an adolescent's social-cognitive development, prevent the use of adequate coping mechanisms and cognitive processes, such as social problem solving, and lead youth to disengage their moral controls (Ng-Mak, Salzinger, Feldman, & Stueve, 2002). The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of trauma and adjustment strategies among African American urban youth and how moral disengagement can be averted via mediation by the use of social problem solving skills. Bandura's theory of Moral Disengagement (Bandura, 1990) was used as a conceptual model to explain how these juveniles cope and adapt to their stressful inner city environments. Existing literature suggests that moral disengagement is associated with antisocial behavior. This study sampled forty-six adolescents at a predominately African-American inner city high school. Trauma was measured by the My Worst Experience Scale (MWES; Hyman, Snook, Berna, DuCette, & Kohr, 2002). Social-problem solving was assessed by the Social Problem Solving Inventory-Revised (SPSI-R; D'Zurilla, Nezu, & Maydeu-Olivares, 2002), social resources and support was measured by the Life Stressor and Social Resources Inventory-Youth Form (LISRES-Y; Moos & Moos, 1994), coping styles was assessed using the Coping Responses Inventory-Youth Form (CRI-Y; Moos, 1993), and moral disengagement was measured by the Multifaceted Moral Disengagement Scale (MDS; Bandura, 1995). Consistent with previous research, trauma was implicated in the etiology of antisocial behavior. Results found that social problem solving mediates the relationship between trauma and moral disengagement. However, social resources and support did not moderate the relationship between trauma and moral disengagement. Also, moral disengagement was not significantly correlated with specific coping styles. Based on these data, the findings of this study suggest that adolescents with more constructive or effective problem solving are not only less likely to engage in delinquent and aggressive behavior, but are also less likely to morally disengage or use moral justification to validate their transgressive behaviors. Implications for future research in addition to school and community-based interventions are presented.

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