According to a February 2013 article published by the journal Child Development, teenagers who view character as fixed rather than changing are likely to perceive harmful behavior as intentional and react aggressively. The report states that teens who react aggressively in peer conflicts tend to concretely classify the perpetrator as a “bad person.” The research suggests that teaching teens that people have the capacity to change could help reduce aggression in schools.
Prior research has shown that children in hostile environments, such as violent neighborhoods, are more likely to ascribe intent to even minor offenses toward them. In order to determine whether teens of all backgrounds and environments might think this way, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, Emory University and Stanford University conducted eight studies with more than 1,600 teens of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to the report, the teens hold a hostile attributional bias. This bias is the tendency to interpret an ambiguous or negative action as purposeful and hostile when in reality, the intention is unclear. These results were compiled from a pool of 1,600 eighth through tenth graders. Four out of the eight samples were more than 50 percent female. The teens that felt intentionally targeted had a desire to punish the person who performed the act. Findings show that these teens adopted the idea that “bad people” cannot change due to fixed personality traits.
Researchers then conducted an eight month intervention that taught the teens about people’s potential to change. The study found that the intervention was effective in that teens were less likely to perceive the offense as malicious or intentional and were less likely to react with aggression or hostility. The authors of the article conclude that by shifting focus to the overall mindsets that cause teen aggression, teens could learn to respond resiliently to the conflicts that life presents.