s a person’s self-conceptin
order to deliver psychological pain.(Infante, 1995) Studies of verbal
aggression
have focused primarily on children and adolescents in educational and social
settings. Very few studies were found to examine verbal aggression in adults
in the
workplace.(Ebbesen, Duncan, Konecni, 1974) The consequences of verbal
aggression in the workplace can lead to social isolation, job related stress,
health
related problems, as well as problems in career advancement. It therefore
should
be considered important, for the individual and management, to identify and
address the causes of verbal aggression.

This program attempts to understand verbal aggression by 1) identifying the
various functions of verbal aggression. 2) identifying the antecedent
conditions of
verbal aggression. 3) Avoiding the antecedent conditions of verbal
aggression.

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Method
Subject
The subject, Shirley J., is a 49 year old African American female. Shirley
J. has
several advanced degrees and is employed as a school psychologist in a
metropolitan school district. She is married with two adult children. The
subject
readily agreed that the target behavior, verbal aggression, is a problem as
it
interferes with her relationships with others. She was enthusiastic in her
desire to
reduce, if not eliminate, this behavior. It would seem that self-monitoring
for
verbal aggression and antecedent control would be valuable as it would allow
for
consistent avoidance of verbal aggression. As a school psychologist the
subject was
very familiar with the basic principles of applied behavioral analysis and
frequently
offered programmatic suggestions. A behavioral contract was developed
jointly
between the therapist and subject. The contract outlined the target
behavior,
success criteria, and individual responsibilities of the therapist and
subject. (see
Appendix A)
Apparatus
A basic checklist was used to document the frequency of verbal aggression on
a
daily basis. The checklist was designed to track only the occurrence of the
behavior. It was felt by the therapist that the content of the verbally
aggressive
message would be too open for subjective interpretation and that no
meaningful
data would be gained from such documentation. In addition the subject made
frequent comments of significant success or failure in avoiding verbal
aggression
for discussion with the therapist. The weekly discussions were used to
evaluate the
appropriateness of the procedures used and make any necessary adjustments to
the
program.
Procedure
For the first two weeks of the program no intervention was applied. Given
that
the subject self-reported that verbal aggression was a problem it was
important to
determine if the frequency of the behavior merited intervention. Therefore,
the
subject documented the daily frequency of verbal aggression. The results of
the
baseline period revealed a high rate of verbal aggression. (see Appendix B)
Given
the results of the baseline data as well as the demanding, often stressful,
nature of
the subjects job, it was mutually agreed that reducing verbal aggression
would be
the focus of the program.

Verbal aggression was defined as cursing, yelling, and screaming at others.

The
agreed upon goals of the program was to decrease verbal aggression by 75% of
baseline for four consecutive weeks. Treatment would consist of identifying
and
avoiding the antecedent conditions to verbal aggression. Avoidance of the
antecedents is considered less restrictive, more proactive, and most
effective.
During the initial consultation it was determined that the antecedent
conditions
included, but was not limited to: work stress, time of day, verbal behavior
of 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.). In
addition, the subject was required to self monitor for the following
antecedents:
clenched fists, tight jaw, rapid heart beat, and the emotions of anger,
frustration and
disappointment. Lastly, it was suggested by Infante (1995) that appropriate
strategy
must be taken to prevent verbal aggression from escalating.

Successful avoidance of the antecedent conditions consisted of removing
oneself
from stressful situations, when possible, as well as not responding verbally
when
provoked. Weekly consultation revealed that verbal aggression was most often
used to: 1) Escape demand situations. 2) Avoid demand situations. 3)
Relieve job
stress. The subject was to document the frequency of verbal aggression and
record
the circumstances of significant success or failure during the work week for
discussion at weekly consultation sessions.
A schedule of reinforcement was developed for the subject. The
reinforcement
was to be given for successful avoidance of verbal aggression. Reinforcement
included: five minutes alone for ‘quiet time’, when possible, or a short,
silent prayer.
Considering the stress and escalating nature of verbal aggression time alone
was
considered appropriate for ‘cool down’. If time alone was not possible or
convenient the subject would say a short prayer when provoked.


Results
The results of the baseline phase revealed what was considered an
extraordinarily
high rate of verbal aggression. However, after the first week of data
collection it
was realized that verbal aggression was not operationally defined. The
subject
considered verbal aggression on much broader terms than did the therapist
which
included subjective, rather than objective, behavior observations. Weekly
consultation sessions revealed that cursing was the most common manifestation
of
the target behavior. When correctly defined using objective terms a decrease
in
verbal aggression was noted. Based on the results of baseline data it was
mutually
agreed that 4 to 8 episodes of aggression per day was significantly high and
merited
intervention.

The results of the intervention phase of treatment revealed a sharp increase
of
verbal aggression over the first three weeks. This increase is thought to be
due to
extinction. Afterwards, a gradual decrease of verbal aggression was noted
during
weeks 4 through 9. No data was collected during week 10 due to subject
illness.
The treatment phase ended with a weekly average of one episode of verbal
aggression. After week five the subject stated that she no longer delivered
the
reinforcement after the behavior. She reported that the ability to control
her
emotions was in itself reinforcing and would maintain the behavior.


Discussion
The results of this program show that verbal aggression can be successfully
decreased by identifying and avoiding its antecedent conditions. As stated
previously, the subject used verbal aggression for escape from demanding or
difficult situations, relief from stress, and avoidance of demanding or
difficult
situations. The behavior appears to be maintained through positive
reinforcement.
Because the subject is in a position of some power and influence there were
relatively few consequences for the behavior. Ebbesen, Duncan and Konecni
(1974) suggested that verbal aggression could be reinforced and maintained in
such
a manner. Since the most common form of verbal aggression was cursing, the
method of identifying and avoiding the antecedents proved very successful.

Infante
(1995) used a similar method with young students. When replicating this
program
it may be appropriate to focus on the positive behavior rather than the
negative.
Instead of documenting the frequency of verbal aggression it may have been
better
to document the frequency of successful avoidance of verbal aggression. In
this
way we would help to internalize the strategy to maintain the behavior, as
well as
having a more positive and constructive program. A question raised by Golin
and
Romanowski (1977) was is there a sex difference in the rate and target of
verbal
aggression. Although this question was not investigated in the current
program, it
does raise an intriguing question for future study.


References
Ebbessen, 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 Sex
of
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.

Author