American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 46, Issues 1-2, 44-50


Copyright © 2010 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


The relationship between childhood maltreatment and the development of aggression and delinquency is well established, with a large proportion of those experiencing physical abuse in childhood showing increased rates of aggression during childhood and involvement in violent crime during adolescence, which persists into adulthood. Despite the well established relationship between child maltreatment and the emergence of aggressive and violent behaviors in children and youth, the mechanisms underlying this effect are not well understood. In part this reflects the focus of research over the past several decades on documenting specific forms of maltreatment, timing of maltreatment, and specific emotional and behavioral outcomes in children and youth. Understanding the social-cognitive processes that underlie aggressive behavior is critical in designing prevention and risk reduction programs.

In this paper we summarize findings from the Gender and Aggression Project (GAP) on two social-cognitive processes that are central to the development of aggressive and violent behavior: rejection sensitivity and anger rumination. Each risk factor will be defined in detail, previous research will be briefly summarized, and key findings from our research will be presented. The relevance of these constructs to the judicial system is also discussed with special reference to how understanding social-cognitive processes that underlie aggression can assist in guiding sentencing and rehabilitation decisions. Gaps in the current research are noted as well as areas for future research.