Anger and Aggression as correlates of Depression in South African Adolescents.

Master's Thesis, 2013

113 Pages







Analysis of the problem
Awareness of the problem
Exploring the problem
Problem statement
Aims of research
General aims
Specific aims
Research methods
Demarcation of the study
Explanation of the concepts
The Research Programme

Causes of stress
Impulsive and inhibited stress
Warning signs
Causes of aggression
Male and female aggression
Dating aggression and peers
Prevalence of adolescent depression
Symptoms of depression
Causes of depression
Predictive factors of depression

Sample selection
Screening tools (Measuring instruments)
Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ)
Anger Questionnaire (AQ)
Choate Depression Inventory for Children (CDIC)
Coding of data
Processing of the results
Testing the hypotheses
Source of error

Demographic results
Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire
Anger Questionnaire
Choate Depression Inventory for Children
Additional analysis

Summary of results
Evaluation of hypotheses


Appendix A: Questionnaire
Appendix B: Raw data


I hereby state that ‘Anger and Aggression as Correlates of Depression in South African Adolescents’ is my own work, and, to the best of my knowledge, it does not contain materials previously published or written by other people, nor has its content ever been substantially accepted in exchange for academic grades or university degrees from AIU or other post-secondary institutions, except properly acknowledged within the document.

Name: Gary William Elliott

Date: September 2013


The completion of this Thesis has been a long, arduous journey. A tremendous amount of hard work and many hours have gone into the end produce. The process has been facilitated by the assistance of the following people:

- Firstly, to my academic advisor, Dr Valcin for his patience, astute guidance and encouragement towards the completion of this paper.
- To Louise, for the proofreading and advice regarding grammar and style.
- To Jeanette and Ida, for their assistance with the administration of this questionnaire.
- To the College Staff for their professionalism with regards conducting this questionnaire.
- To Reshmee, your constant support and encouragement is greatly appreciated.
- Finally, to my friends and parents, for their understanding when I was so often absent and for believing in my ability to fulfil this dream.

September 2013


The primary objective for this study was to conduct an empirical investigation to gather information in the form of data from adolescent males and females in the Pretoria region of South Africa. Information was gathered with respects to their level of physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, hostility and depression. The information was used to identify whether correlations exist between the three variables anger, aggression and depression for South African adolescents.

A literature study was conducted and the following hypotheses were developed for this study:

I. Males are more likely to engage in physical aggression than females.
II. Males and females are equally likely to engage in verbal aggression.
III. Males are more likely to experience feelings of anger towards others.
IV. Females are more likely to experience feelings of hostility towards others.
V. Males and females are equally likely to report feelings of depression.
VI. Rates of physical aggression are higher in younger adolescent males than older adolescent males.
VII. The expressions of verbal aggression in females are constant throughout adolescence.
VIII. There is a significant positive correlation between feelings of anger and expressions of aggression.
IX. There is a significant positive correlation between feelings of anger and feelings of depression.
X. There is a significant negative correlation between physical aggression and feelings of depression.

The quantitative data gathered came from the completion of a structured questionnaire comprising four distinct sections: demographic information, the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ), the Anger Questionnaire (AQ) and the Choate Depression Inventory for Children (CDIC). The questionnaire was administered to Grade 7-12 pupils (aged 12-19 years old) in an independent school in Pretoria. The sample group was randomly selected and yielded 243 completed questionnaires. The data was coded and entered into the Moon Stats statistical programme for analysis; affording the opportunity to generate both univariate and bivariate statistics in conjunction with the calculation of Pearson product moment correlations.

Analysis of the data yielded the following results:

More males than females recorded ‘medium’ levels of physical aggression at 58% to 42% respectively; this trend remains for ‘high’ levels on this section, with males recording 66% against 34% for females.

Moderate levels of verbal aggression were relatively equally spread across the sexes but higher levels were recorded in males at 62% than females at 38%, this is a ratio of approximately 2:1 for males to females.

Levels of anger were fairly equal in both sexes at a moderate levels but ‘high’ levels of anger were reported in 67% of males and 33% of females, again this is an approximate ratio of 2:1 for males to females.

Hostility levels were generally even among the sexes at both medium’ and ‘high’ levels. In the same manner, levels of depression were very similar for males and females. High levels of depression were recorded for 43% of males and 57% of the females in the sample group.

Levels of physical aggression in males were found to peak at around 14 to 15 years of age and decline steadily towards 18 years of age.

The Pearson product moment correlation was calculated from the raw data for Anger and Aggression. The Pearson ‘r’ was calculated at r(x,y) = 0,75 which suggests a strong positive correlation, statistically significant at the 1% level.

The Pearson product moment correlation was calculated from the raw data for Anger and Depression. The Pearson ‘r’ was calculated at r(x,y) = 0,59 which suggests a strong positive correlation, statistically significant at the 1% level.

The Pearson product moment correlation was calculated from the raw data for Aggression and Depression. The Pearson ‘r’ was calculated at r(x,y) = 0,43 which suggests a moderately strong positive correlation, statistically significant at the 1% level.

Recommendations for further study and limitations to the study are discussed.


Figure 1: Potential progression towards aggression

Figure 2: Risk factors in aggressive behaviour

Figure 3: Screening tools

Figure 4: Chart of Sex by Grade

Figure 5: Chart of Sex against Physical Aggression

Figure 6: Cross tabulation for Sex against Verbal Aggression Level

Figure 7: Cross tabulation for sex vs. anger level

Figure 8: Bar chart for Anger Level against Age

Figure 9: Cross tabulation for Sex against Depression Level

Figure 10: Chart of Depression vs. Age

Figure 11: Cross tabulation for Physical Aggression vs. Sex

Figure 12: Cross tabulation for Hostility vs. Sex

Figure 13: Cross tabulation for Age vs. Physical Aggression

Figure 14: Cross tabulation for Age vs. Verbal Aggression

Figure 15: Scatterplot of Anger and Aggression

Figure 16: Scatterplot of Anger and Depression

Figure 17: Scatterplot of Aggression and Depression



Anger is probably one of the most frequently expressed emotions during childhood. Children soon discover that they are able to acquire attention or have their needs met through the display of anger (Hurlock: 1987). Anger is an emotion; it is often described with synonyms such as enraged, annoyed, at the end of my rope, fuming and furious (Mann: 2012). While anger is a relatively common emotion, it is not to be confused with aggression. Anger remains an emotion while aggression is an action. The frustrated child becomes angry and may or may not express their anger with aggression.

The concept of aggression has been described as a threat of harm or an action aimed at harming others (Loeber & Hay: 1997). The aggressive actions often commence in early childhood and reach a peak at around four years of age, declining thereafter (Campbell, Shaw & Gilliom: 2000).

A number of children display aggression with regularity and displays of aggression among young children is fairly common but becomes more of a concern when the child continues to aggress into the teenage years and on into adulthood.

As an educator working with adolescents, the concept of aggression is of personal interest; within the workplace and in the general population as a whole. It has been suggested that aggressive displays are caused by a complex relationship of factors. These factors can be defined as social, personal or situational. Social factors include aspects such as frustration, arousal, media violence and provocation. The work of Strube et al (1984) gave tremendous insight into the concepts of the A and B Type personalities and how they are related to a propensity for violent behaviour. The hostile attributional bias, as described by Dodge et al (1986) explains how certain aggressors perceive hostile intentions in others and are thus more inclined to aggress. Research conducted by Baron & Lawton (1972) focused on the situational aspects of aggressive behaviour. This in conjunction with Gantner & Taylor’s work (1992) into alcohol consumption and aggressive behaviour gives us some insight into this factor of aggression.

Anger in children is a result of feelings of injustice, unfair treatment or frustration because they are not getting their way. When anger is felt in adolescence, these teenagers report their anger having connection to their siblings, peers, teachers and sometimes their parents. It is important to note that the majority of teenagers decline in their teacher and peer rated aggression during adolescence but this phase of their life is characterised by an increase in delinquent behaviour (Berk: 2000).

Aggression is displayed in a number of forms; physical aggression, verbal aggression and indirect aggression. Verbal and physical aggression is more overt than indirect aggression and is more evident in boys than girls (Berk: 2000). The more covert displays of aggression are usually reserved for girls; this hostility-relational aggression is often connected to higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of self-esteem in girls (Crick: 1997).

The research of Farrington (1995) indicated that the levels of aggressive behaviour tended to increase from eight years of age and peaked at around sixteen years, then drops off at around 18 years of age and beyond. If this is correct, one would expect to see this trend mirrored in the sample group. Conversely, longitudinal studies in Canada, New Zealand and the United States indicated that physical aggression in primary school was the best predictor of violent behaviour during adolescence (Nagin & Tremblay: 1999).

In the studies of Brooks-Gunn & Warren (1989) it was suggested that the hormonal levels during adolescence were partly responsible for the increased irritability of teenagers. The fluctuation in hormones manifests as anger and frustration in males but as depression among females. It would appear that there should be a connection between levels of aggression and feelings of depression among female adolescents, but I purport that the displays of aggression in teenage males is a manifestation of their own feelings of depression. Kellerman (1999) suggested that testosterone (male sex hormone) is responsible for the increase in aggressive behaviour during puberty, while females experience higher levels of estrogen (female sex hormone) and are thus more passive during puberty than their male counterparts.

Symptoms of depression increase during adolescence and these feelings are often compounded by feelings of sadness and worthlessness, accompanied by feelings of futility that can manifest in teenagers withdrawing from social situations (Sue, Sue & Sue: 1997). Gerali (2009) adds that depression is one of the most common issues that adolescents deal with and it affects teenagers regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status. Depression can be defined as a general mood state characterised by a sense of inadequacy, a feeling of despondency, a decrease in activity or reactivity pessimism, sadness and related symptoms (Reber & Reber: 2001). Severe levels of depression have been reported in up to ten percent of adolescent males and up to forty percent of adolescent females (Petersen, Compas, Brooks-Gunn, Stemmler, Ey & Grant: 1993). In light of these statements, one could expect to see a positive correlation between levels of aggression and depression in adolescent males but probably a weaker correlation between these factors for males.

The general aim of this paper will be to determine whether there is a linear correlation between levels of aggression and levels of depression. A correlation between feelings of anger and levels of depression will be sought. Gender relevance will be identified for all three components; anger, aggression and depression. The purpose of this study is to add valuable information to the current body of South African literature on this topic and to generate data via the questionnaire on levels of anger, aggression and depression in our adolescent youth.

Analysis of the problem

This section deals with the awareness of the problem and the content of this research. Initially a preliminary literature study is completed to explore the problem(s) and then a problem statement is formulated to outline the progression of the research.

Awareness of the problem

Anger researchers such as Dahlen & Deffenbacher (2001) believe that the most comprehensive explanation of anger is one that includes four separate elements and that we only experience real anger when all four facets are resent. These are; a feeling of being angry, these feelings will range from mild annoyance to overpowering rage; some sort of bodily change, this is referred to as physiological arousal caused by the release of adrenalin which increases heart rate and blood pressure; a mental or cognitive awareness that some event is a threat to us and; an effect of our behaviour, causing us to express our anger in some form.

In Mann (2012) we are introduced to the idea that frustration begets anger which can lead to aggression and possible rage. Our anger stems from frustration, abuse, a sense of injustice, unmet expectations, unethical behaviour of others, a lack of support, and poor communication. And so the purpose of anger is to get what we want or need; to prepare us for action, to indicate to us that our rights have been violated or to change things. Long-term or chronic anger has the potential to lead to depression (Mann: 2012). It is important to note that chronic anger if suppressed has the potential to increase the risk of coronary heart disease (Robins & Novaco: 2000). Relatively recent research by Leineweber et al, (2009) showed that males who suppress their anger are five times more likely to suffer heart attacks than males who express their anger.

There are many well-known causes of anger in teenagers; these include hormonal changes, difficulty adapting to new social situations and peer groups (Wisegeek: 2013). Teenagers often have a difficult time controlling their anger if they are feeling depressed; and thus depression can be an underlying cause for anger although it may not be apparent.

Anger is undoubtedly the most frequently expressed emotion in childhood and can be expressed in one of two manners; inhibited responses are those that the child manages to keep under control, they tend to ‘bottle’ their anger and become more apathetic and withdrawn this can manifest as feeling sorry for themselves or becoming sullen. In contrast they may resort to impulsive responses; these are usually aggressive and often expressed against animals, objects or other people. Impulsive responses can be either physical or verbal and are unfortunately more common than the inhibited responses (Hurlock: 1987).

Children and adolescents with poor social skills, in particular the angry, aggressive style have difficulty imagining the thoughts and feelings of others (Berk: 2000). They often mistreat adults and peers without experiencing the guilt and remorse prompted by awareness of another’s point of view (Chandler: 1973). The work of Saunders (1998) suggests that teenage stress has the propensity to cause anger and can be as mundane as simply being a teenager and juggling the demands of school, home and personal pressure but may include pressures around deadlines, money issues, their emerging sexuality and dealings with the opposite sex. Anger in adolescence has a number of causes and the teenager will often feel that they are being unreasonably criticised, excessively punished, rejected, disempowered, frustrated and controlled by others. The child learns appropriate expression of their anger through modelling, child rearing practices and dysfunctional relationships with the family (Hollin, Browne & Palmer: 2004).

The research of Farrell et al. (2012) indicates that approximately 31% of teenagers oppose the use of aggression with 41% believing that aggression is sometimes necessary and 28% supporting the use of aggression. Aggression is the manifestation of a failure of self-control (Novaco: 1979) and self-control is the means by which aggression is moderated. At the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, research indicated that almost 25% of grades 6-10s indicate that they have been bullied during the past year, more than a third had been in a physical fight and up to 40% of males and 32% of females had committed a serious violent offense. Some of the risk factors for aggressive behaviour include; individual characteristics, the home environment, relationships with peers, school failure, media violence and community and social factors. The feelings that result from harassment, discrimination and challenges within the school context can develop into acts of violence as forms of reactive aggression (Pellegrini, Bartini & Broks: 1999). Perry et al. (1988) found that girls are as susceptible as boys to being victimized by peers in the form of direct physical and verbal abuse.

It is proposed that acts of aggression by adolescents are often in reaction to a personal intentional, and direct trigger, rather than the absence of something positive (Sanger, Maag & Spiker: 2006). Males are more likely than females to be the perpetrators and targets of bullying (Olweus: 1993). Crick, Bigbee & Howes (1996) indicate that boys are more prone to engage in overt, physical victimization while girls use relational victimization. Relational aggression is characterised as an expression of anger involving the withdrawal of friendships, name-calling and the spreading of rumours (Crick et al, 1996).

Graham, Bellmore & Mize (2006) suggest that aggressive teenagers are more likely to perceive school and authority figures as unfair, which can be a justifiable accusation when situations like racial harassment are ignored or mishandled. Gadin & Hammarstrom (2005) indicate that girls are more likely to report verbal and physical abuse that includes unwanted comments about their body or being touched against their will. In contrast, puberty can be a time of prestige that can bestow males with the developmental height, muscles and athleticism that gleans them favour among their peers (Rutter: 2007). The rejection of the child’s very character could be seen as harassment and has a significant role in school violence (Fox & Harding: 2005). It is noted in Shields & Cicchetti (2001) that children who are rejected and victimised have difficulty regulating their emotions and are thus more prone to aggressive outbursts.

Hess & Hagen (2005) discovered that girls have a stronger desire to aggress indirectly. In Meichenbaum (1998) boys commit the majority of violent crime with a ration of up to 12:1. Boys and girls both utilise relational aggression but girls use more indirect, social and verbal forms of aggression, the girls tend to use less competitive, grabbing aggressive behaviours than boys but are more prone to nonverbal signs of aggression such as disdainful facial expressions, ignoring and eye-rolling. In Farrington (1989), the best predictors for adolescent aggression are outlined as economic deprivation, family criminality, poor child-rearing, school failure, hyperactivity-impulsivity-attention deficit and antisocial child behaviour.

Margolin, Youga & Ballou (2002) suggest that the number of violent acts committed by adolescents is escalating, the severity of these acts is intensifying, and aggressive behaviour is beginning at a younger age and persisting into adulthood. Their research indicated that the adolescent’s perception of factors that influence their own and other’s aggressive behaviour hinged on anger release, aggravation as a cue for anger and frustration, modelled anger and anger influenced by violent neighbourhoods. Kellerman (1999) adds that boys learn to handle their aggression from their father but when fathers are absent; their cues come from surrogate males, peers and mass-media. It is a sobering thought, suggested by Christian et al. (1997) that by the time a seriously violent boy is eleven or twelve; in most cases it may be too late to modify his behaviour meaningfully.

In the South African context, the Crime Statistics issued by the South African Police Services 2011/2012 report, suggest that in Gauteng (the region for this research paper) the crime ratio per 100 000 is 4576.1, serious crimes recorded has decreased by 1.9% in this period; however, the rates of gang violence reveals that 13.1% of murders and 22.2% of attempted murders during this time period were gang related incidences; with 7% of over-all murders in the country being gang related. The statistics on rape, which includes rape, compelled rape, acts of consensual sexual penetration in children aged 12-16 years is 96.9 per 100 000. On the other hand, children under the age of 18 years are victims of serious crimes with a total of 50 688 cases in the period 2011/2012, just over half of these are sexual offences, with common assault comprising 10 630 of these cases. The rate of drug related crime has increased by 15, 6% in the same time period.

While it is common for the mood of adolescents to change, there is an increase in mood ‘swings’ during puberty, these changes are accompanied by feelings of sadness, worthlessness and a sense of futility, resulting in the child withdrawing from social situations (Sue, Sue & Sue: 1997). In Reber & Reber (2001), depression is defined as a mod state characterised by a sense of inadequacy, a feeling of despondency, a decrease in activity or reactivity pessimism, sadness and related symptoms. The symptoms of depression, outlined in Saunders (1998) include irritability, insomnia, inability to relax or concentrate, crying, dependence on peers, alcohol, arties, high grades, approval, appearance or popularity, withdrawal from family, friends, routines, schoolwork and emotional withdrawal. Persistent high levels of stress, feelings of inferiority, and an inability to communicate and relate to others in conjunction with family conflict and isolation from the peers can be the main reason for teenage depression. A persistently high level of stress can cause depression; this stress is often evident in the school environment; where the research component of this paper will be conducted. Peer pressure, problems with their academic work and conflicts with school authority figures can generate feelings of depression in adolescents. In addition to stress, poor coping strategies, a poor self-image, insecurity and self-generating worry can compound the problem.

The prevalence of depression is approximately equal for both genders up to the onset of puberty but becomes more evident in girls from the onset of puberty (Hankin et al. 1998). It is purported by Garland & Zigler (1993) that depression in adolescence is correlated positively with suicidal behaviour. The impact of the peer group relationship has major significance for this research paper and for feelings of depression in general. When a child manifests aggressive behaviour within the peer group they may be rejected by the peer group or they may be viewed in a positive light (Crick & Ladd: 1993), this has obvious significance for their peer acceptance and can thus impact on their sense of self-worth and ultimately feeling of isolation and depression. If the child is excluded from the peer group they become a stronger target for peer bullying as they become more submissive and withdrawn (Stewart & Rubin: 1995), this again increases the likelihood of depressive feelings in the adolescent.

This research paper seeks to make a connection between anger, aggression and depression among adolescents.

Exploring the problem

Anger is often confused with aggression or frustration (Mann: 2012). There is however a very clear distinction between these three aspects. Pictorially, there is a progression that escalates in severity of emotion that has its root in feelings of frustration.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Potential progression towards aggression

Adolescence is a period in which there are dramatic changes, and as a result of such changes an individual’s perception of the world is altered. It is well documented that there are emotional ups and downs during this period (Adams: 1995). Adolescents are angered when their physical or social activities are prevented or in the case of an attack on their personalities, positions, or status in society. An adolescent may display anger when he or she is criticized, embarrassed, underestimated, or ignored and perceive such situations as threats to his already extremely sensitive personality (Yazgan-Inanc, Bilgin & Atici: 2007).

According to Chandler (1973), children and adolescents with very poor social skills, in particular the angry aggressive style have difficulty imagining the thoughts and feelings of others. They often mistreat adults and peers without experiencing the guilt and remorse prompted by awareness of another’s point of view. It is interesting to note that a number of authorities on anger suggest that the root problem is grounded in stress. Adolescence is undoubtedly a period of life filled with confusion, growth spurts, misery and self-discovery. In addition, adolescents face challenges related to their academic progress, loneliness, peer relationships and the dating game; these aspects have been supported by clinical research (Ryan-Wenger, Sharrer & Campbell: 2005). The work of Copeland (2004) has outlined three primary stress provoking situations for adolescents, these include:

- School – expectations laced on the child that are beyond his ability and hence a cause of frustration due to the inability to perform adequately
- Home – a lack of structure, illness, inadequate nutrition and familial abuse or dysfunction in the family
- Peers – making new friends, dealing with the pressure to conform to the in-group and the presence of bullies can add tremendous stress to the adolescent’s world

These situations of stress have an impact and Copeland (2004) outlines potential manifestations of stress in the adolescent’s life; these include but are not limited to disturbed sleep patterns, an inability to concentrate, psychosomatic illnesses, anxiety and irrational fears, isolation and possible substance use and abuse. At this point it is prudent to point the parallel found in the work of Mann (2012) on anger; a long-term, chronic anger has the potential to lead to anxiety and depression. It is suggested that ‘stresses may well be the precursor to anger and depression.

According to Eisenberg and Delaney (1998) there are three causes of anger: frustrating situations, situations in which an individual’s efficiency and security are under threat, and when the person’s behaviours do not match his expectations. Spielberger (1991) outlines two distinct components of anger: state anger and trait anger. He refers to state anger as a subjective emotion accompanied by muscle tension and stimulation of the autonomous nervous system, its intensity may deviate from mild to strong and is determined by the perceived level of injustice or frustration the adolescent feels. Trait anger is perceived in more situations and more frustrating, it is explained as a tendency towards frequent state anger.

Anger remains an emotion but when the adolescent is unable to ‘deal’ with these emotions, they have the potential to spill over into the realm of manifest anger, which in its most severe form is expressed as aggression.

Aggressive behaviour among adolescents can take a number of forms, ranging from physical to verbal to indirect aggression. Physical aggression implies physical harm towards another, verbal aggression refers to the threat of harm towards others and includes teasing and taunting, and indirect aggression includes the spreading of rumours, gossiping and deliberately isolating others from a social situation.

The research of Waldman & McBurnett (1999) indicates that the adolescent has a propensity for aggressive behaviour as a result of two important components; his temperament and the parenting style used while he was growing up. Insecure parent-child relationships and parenting styles that are harsh, inconsistent and coercive are related to poor outcomes for adolescents (Campbell, Shaw & Gilliom: 2000). Correlations have been found between temperament, parenting styles and behavioural problems and it is suggested that a child’s temperament attracts harsher parenting and hence generates more aggressive behaviour in the child (Lee & Bates: 1965).

In addition, genetic factors, family functioning and parental stress in conjunction with problem peer relationships increase the likelihood for the manifestation of aggressive behaviour. The quality of adolescent-parent, adolescent-peer and adolescent-teacher interactions influence, and may determine, the way adolescents perceive themselves in relation to others, their attitudes, and their behaviours (Werner: 2004).

The relationship between anger and aggression with relation to levels of depression is the focus of this research. In the South African context, the focus of research has revolved around ‘troubled’ communities riddled with gang activity and young delinquents and their behaviour. It would thus appear that the need for research with particular relevance to adolescents in relation to anger, aggression and its correlation with depression is needed. This thesis seeks to add information to the body of studies already present in the South African context, focusing on non-gang related research with particular reference to the anger, aggression and depression of male and female adolescents and their perception of their own levels of depression.

Problem statement

Research in the South African context with specific reference to aggression has been limited in its scope to adults and gang members of the Western Cape. There remains a misunderstanding in the difference between anger as an emotional response and aggression as a physical response manifest from frustrations that cause anger. If the connection between anger and aggression remains elusive, the connection between anger, aggression and depression will remain misinterpreted.

Depression among our youth in this country continues to be under-studied and the psychosocial and social risk factors for adolescent depression have, to date excluded anger as a causal factor.

The research into possible correlations between anger, aggression and depression among South African adolescents, particularly those outside of the gang infested Western Cape area, may result in greater awareness for adolescents, educators, parents and professionals. An increase in awareness thus results in better preparedness to identify and deal with displays of aggression, feelings of anger and depression in our youth.

It may be prudent to suggest that an insufficient understanding of the connection between a child’s anger, their aggressive outbursts and the propensity for the development of depression could be resulting in a greater potential for adolescent suicidal behaviour.

I propose that there is a need for studies of this nature within the South African context to our efforts to enhance our understanding of adolescent depression and the risk factors for depression. As educators, parents and professionals in the realm of adolescent work, this research seeks to enhance understanding around this topic; I believe that a greater awareness can stem from this research into adolescent feelings of anger and aggression as risk factors for the development of depression and increase the set of signs and symptoms as evidence for emotional and social distress.

Aims of research

The aims of this research are outlined in this section and they deal with the general and specific aims for the research that was undertaken.

General aims

The general objectives for this research are based on the gathering of information from Grade 7 – 12 pupils from the Gauteng province in South Africa with specific reference to the areas of anger, aggression and depression. The general aims are to identify a correlation between anger and the expression of aggression, between anger and feelings of depression and between aggression and depression among adolescents in the South African context.

The specific objectives for this research have been outlined below in question format, and include:

- Do male adolescents express higher levels of physical aggression than adolescent females?
- Are female adolescents more likely to utilise verbal aggression than adolescent males?
- Do adolescent males harbour stronger feelings of anger towards others?
- Is hostility more prevalent among adolescent females?
- Are adolescent males or females more depressed?
- Does physical aggression become less frequent as males move through adolescence?
- Do females use less verbal aggression as they move through adolescence?
- Are feelings of anger and expressions of aggression correlated?
- Is there a correlation between levels of anger and levels of depression n adolescents?
- Does a correlation exist between the use of physical aggression and feelings of depression?

Specific aims

The specific aim of this research study is to use the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ), the Anger Questionnaire (AQ) and the Choate Depression Inventory for Children (CDIC) scale, as screening tools to investigate the correlation as outlined under the general aims of this thesis among South African adolescents.

Research methods

The study undertaken was comprised of two distinct components: namely a literature study and an empirical investigation. The literature study provided information that pertained to anger, aggression and depression with specific reference to adolescents in the Gauteng region of South Africa.

The empirical research sought to investigate the epidemiology of adolescent anger and aggression and their influence on adolescent depression. This process was conducted using a questionnaire that was completed by the adolescents in the sample group. The questionnaire was piloted with a sample group of Grade 7 pupils to isolate any ambiguity in the application or wording of the questionnaire and understanding of the Likert scale used in some of the sections of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was refined accordingly as the feedback from the pilot group before it was mass produced for the pupils. A sample of Grade 7 – 12 adolescents in the city of Pretoria in the Gauteng Province of South Africa was selected for the empirical component of this research study.

Demarcation of the study

The diagnosis of adolescent depression as a medical condition requires consultation with a medical doctor of psychologist. The use of screening tools in this research posed a problem; as such it is important to note that the study is empirical in nature, and relies of the questionnaire completion, which assessed levels of anger, aggression and depression. It is essential to note that the use of these screening tools prevents the research from being diagnostic in any way.

A sample of adolescents from High Schools in the Pretoria urban area was used as the sample group for this research. The ethnicity of the sample group was predominantly white and black male and female adolescents but the research does seek to generalise the findings to the urban population of the adolescents of South Africa. The practicality of the sample region is to be noted but we are able to consider the sample group as representative of urban areas throughout South Africa.

Explanation of the concepts

This section seeks to define a sample of the concepts that are relevant to this research.

- Adolescence – adolescence is defined as the period from puberty (12 or 13 years) into the early twenties. During this period, which Erikson called Identity versus Role Diffusion, the child has to integrate all of the tasks from the previous four stages into a coherent identity, and prepare to face the world as an independent adult. In addition to dealing with the changes in his or her body brought on by the onset of puberty, the adolescent must compare and integrate how others see him or her and how he or she sees himself/herself. The adolescent must also adjust to his or her budding sexuality (Erikson, 1968).
- Anger – a fairly strong emotional reaction which accompanies a variety of situations such as being physically restrained, being interfered with, having one’s possessions removed, being attacked or threatened. Anger is often defined by a collection of physical reactions, including particular facial grimaces and body positions characteristic of action in the autonomous nervous system, particularly the sympathetic division (Reber & Reber: 2001).
- Aggression – an extremely general term used for a wide variety of acts that involve attack, hostility, etc. Typically, it is used for such acts as can be assumed to be motivated by any of the following: fear or frustration, desire to produce fear or flight in others, to push forward one’s own ideas or interests Reber & Reber: 2001).
- Bullying – a person is being bullied when he or she is exposed repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more persons and negative actions are described as ‘someone intentionally inflicting, or attempting to inflict, injury or discomfort on another. The actions can be direct or indirect’ (Adair, Dixon, Moore & Sutherland: 2000).
- Dating aggression – actual or threatened harm between adolescent dating partners. Often it is these milder forms of aggression (e.g., pushing, slapping or shoving) that occur between young dating partners (Connolly & Josephson: 2007).
- Depression – is defined as a psychological state of despondency, dejection, low spirit, sadness, inactivity, and difficulty in thinking, concentrating and in seeing a situation in perspective. Prolonged depression is a common ultimate cause of suicide and a common emotional experience among adolescents (Van Den Aardweg & Van Den Aardweg: 1993).
- Depressive symptoms – refers to the changes in the body and the mind which are the signs of the mental state of depression.
- Epidemiology of adolescent depression – refers to the study of the causes, spread and control of the mental state of depression.
- Gossip – evaluative talk about a person who is not present includes rumour, slander or simply the exchange of information (Eder & Enke: 1991).
- Indirect aggression – a type of covert behaviour that allows the perpetrator to inflict pain or hurt in such a way that it seems that there was no intent to hurt at all (Bojorkqvist, Lagerspertz & Kaukiainen: 1992).
- Mood Disorder – a category of disorders characterised by disturbances of mood or emotional tone to the point where excessive and inappropriate depression or elation occurs (Reber & Reber: 2001).
- Proactive aggression – represents predatory attacks motivated by external reward (Card & Little: 2007).
- Puberty – the period of life in which the sex organs become reproductively functional. Onset in the female is fairly clearly marked by the menarche; in the male it is less obvious, but the growth and pigmentation of underarm hair is often taken as criterial. The end of puberty is difficult to specify and many authors simply select an arbitrary cut-off point based on age although it should be recognized that there is considerable variation in age of onset and rate of development, so such an approach is of questionable value (Reber & Reber: 2001).
- Reactive aggression – represents combative response to perceived threat (Card & Little: 2007).
- Relational aggression – acts that harm others through damage (or threat of damage) to relationships or feelings of acceptance, friendship or group inclusion (Bojorkqvist et al: 1992).
- Social aggression – rumour, gossip or social exclusion intended to damage self- esteem or status within a group (Simmons: 2002).

The Research Programme

This research comprises five distinct chapters that are outlined as follows:

Chapter 1:

Chapter 1 includes background information on the concepts of anger, aggression and depression in adolescents. It includes statistical information with reference to aggression among youth. An analysis of the problem, the general aims of the study, a description of the research method used in this research, a demarcation of the study group and an explanation of some of the key concepts are outlined in this chapter.

Chapter 2:

The content of chapter 2 includes a review of the literature on anger, aggression and depression with specific reference to adolescents. Definitions, prevalence statistics, causes of stress, impulsive and inhibited stress, warning signs and risk factors are present in this chapter. In addition, peer groups and aggression, male versus female aggression and dating aggression is discussed. Predictive factors, causes and symptoms and prevalence of adolescent depression are also included.

Chapter 3:

Chapter 3 explores the research design and methods. It includes a discussion of the research problem, the aim of the empirical investigation, the research postulate, research tools utilised in the investigation and the selection of the sample group. It also seeks to outline the collecting of data, adjustments to the screening tools, the coding of the data and the analysis and compilation of data. The hypotheses specific to the research are clearly indicated and the specific assessment of these hypotheses are outlined.

Chapter 4:

This chapter will outline the result of the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire (BPAQ), the Anger Questionnaire (AQ) and the Choate Depression Inventory for Children (CDIC) scales. The results are analysed and correlations where relevant to the hypotheses are outlined.

Chapter 5:

The content of chapter 5 is a discussion of the research results, the conclusions and evaluations of the hypotheses. The implications of the research are discussed with particular reference for parents and educators. Recommendations for further research in the area of anger, aggression and depression are outlined and the limitations of the study are discussed. General conclusions from the research are summarised in this chapter.



Anger is the most frequently expressed emotion in childhood; this emotion continues into adolescence. The onset of puberty generates more stimuli that provokes anger in teenagers; whether these stimuli pertain to the thwarting of desires, the interruption of activities in progress, fault-finding or teasing, they have the potential to create feelings of anger (Hurlock: 1987). Dr Saunders is of the opinion that anger stems from adolescent stress and is systemic to being an adolescent (Saunders: 1998).

Anger remains an emotion; when the emotion translates into action it manifests as aggression. Mann (2012) adds that chronic anger has the potential to manifest as anxiety and depression. This is supported by the work of Booth (2010) who suggests that the duration of the anger episode has the greatest impact on our health. Anger that lasts longer has the most harmful effect, while anger that dissipates fairly quickly does less harm to our bodies.

As feelings of anger spill over into action there are obvious consequences but failing to express anger can also create health problems. If an adolescent feels that they are unable to express their anger appropriately or they feel that they are prevented from expressing their anger; these situations can generate anxiety and ultimately depression.

The research of Chen, Rubin & Li (1997) has indicated that early aggressive behaviour is a predictor for later academic difficulties. In addition, these early signs of aggression include lying, stealing, fighting and resisting authority; while they are rather common to childhood behaviour, in adolescence unusually early or aggressive sexual behaviour, excessive drinking and the use of illicit drugs are frequent (Kellerman: 1999).

Violence often occurs in schools because of less opportunity for its expression outside of the school environment (Guggenbuhl: 1996). It is purported that the tendency towards violence is a basic human instinct. If the school environment is no longer a ‘safe’ environment for pupils and teachers it is imperative that the potential for aggressive behaviour is sufficiently distributed among the teaching and parental population. Hollin, Browne & Palmer (2004) indicate that family factors are partly responsible for aggressive behaviour in adolescents; sociological and sociodemographic characteristics are crucial to predictive and protective factors.

If anger is commonplace in the life of adolescents and a large number of these teenagers resort to violent behaviour while others internalise their frustration; where is the connection between the components of anger, aggression and depression, if indeed there is a connection.

Aggressive behaviour takes different forms depending on the situation the adolescent is in but it remains a serious problem in society. Physical, verbal and indirect aggression is a common expression of the teenager’s frustration but specific risk factors for aggression are present. The child’s character, his home environment, relationships with his peers, his performance at school and social and community factors are instrumental in transforming anger into aggression. Boys tend to use direct physical or verbal aggression more often than girls, while females use indirect forms of aggression predominantly (Hess & Hagen: 2005). Girls also have a tendency towards more intimate peer relations and more positive interactions with their teachers than their male counterparts (Bearman, Wheldall & Kemp: 2006).

It would be prudent here to emphasize that not all aggression is bad. Reactive aggression is associated with negative emotionality, specifically anxiety and is related to frustration, while proactive aggression is associated with obtaining a desired goal (Card & Little: 2007).


Children and adolescents with very poor social skills, in particular the angry, aggressive style have difficult imagining the thoughts and feelings of others. They often mistreat adults and peers without experiencing the guilt and remorse prompted by awareness of another’s point of view (Chandler: 1973). Anger needs to be dealt with constructively to prevent it from manifesting as aggression (Saunders: 1998). Proposed methods for dealing with anger include waiting for the anger to subside before responding to the stimulus, attempts to identify the cause of the anger, trying to allow the anger to manifest in a calm manner and count to ten.

Adolescence is a period in the child’s life when dramatic changes are occurring; these changes result in altered perception of the world around them. The emotional peaks and troughs in an adolescent’s life are well documented (Adams: 1995). Adolescents feel angry when their physical or social activities are prevented or in the case of an attack on their personalities, positions or status in society. An adolescent may display anger when he or she is criticised, embarrassed, underestimated, or ignored and perceive such situations as threats to his already extremely sensitive personality (Yazgan-Inanc, Bilgin & Atici: 2007). According to Eisenberg and Delaney (1998), anger is a result of a person’s personal appreciations and frustrations.

Anger has three dimensions: physiological, social and cognitive, and behavioural and reaction. The physiological dimension of anger is related to a physiological change occurring in the body when an individual is exposed to a frustration or situation that increases anger (Kisac: 1997). The social and cognitive dimension explains the interpretation of perceived anger within an individual. The reasons for anger, fear and uneasiness are not related to the event itself, but rather to individual’s perception and how they interpret the symbols in their minds: their cliché beliefs, comments and evaluations (Ozer: 2000). The behaviour and reaction dimension of anger is an expression of whether anger is expressed or not, and if it is how it is expressed (Kisac: 1997). Each of us experiences anger differently and expresses our anger in different manners, these can be defined as externalization, internalization or controlling (Spielberger: 1991).

The adolescent experiences his anger as a social stimulus but others’ personalities and behaviour may be triggers for anger in young people (Yazgan-Inanc et al: 1997). The problem with anger is, too many of us experience too much anger for too much time in our lives; this is when anger becomes a problem for us (Dahlen & Deffenbacher: 2001). Anger essentially comprises four key components; these components may occur separately but when they exist in conjunction the emotion of anger can become a real problem:

- The feeling of being angry – this feeling can range in intensity from mild annoyance to overpowering rage or fury
- A bodily change – this physiological arousal is often caused by the release of adrenalin, which causes a range of reactions in our body (such as increased heart rate and blood pressure)
- A mental or cognitive awareness – this sense that an event has occurred that threatens us is crucial in anger development
- An effect on our behaviour – to feel real anger we need to express it in some manner, whether this is in an appropriate or inappropriate manner (Mann: 2012)

It is common to confuse the idea of anger and aggression; anger remains an emotion while aggression is the action that can result from being very angry. The aggression is intended to cause physical or emotional harm, perhaps with verbal insults, threats, sarcasm or raised voices. When aggression becomes so extreme that we lose self-control, it is said that we are in a rage.

The emotions connected to anger are not the problem; if we experience too much anger or express it in an inappropriate manner we can create problems for ourselves and for others. We experience anger for a number of reasons; anger in and of itself is not harmful and can be seen as a protective factor in cases. We feel anger when we need or want something outside of our reach. Researchers have suggested that anger is behaviour-regulating programmes that will help us acquire what we want or need in order to survive; our expression of anger can encourage the target of our anger to offer something that might reduce the likelihood of them suffering in any way from the angry outburst. This type of anger would probably not be tolerated with adolescents due to the inappropriate nature of its use.

Anger may also assist in preparing us for action. In a similar fashion to stress, anger sends signals throughout the body in preparation for the fight or flight response. Anger in this sense is essential to prepare us to take action against the perceived injustice against us. While our anger may prepare us to fight, this form of aggression is not socially acceptable. Anger also informs us when our rights have been violated; this heightened awareness of abuse protects us from the onslaught of threat. If our rights have been violated it is appropriate for us to become angry; with this in mind it is essential to be aware of our rights to assess when they are being violated. It is necessary to understand that we have a right to be angry; this in itself better prepares us for the ability to manage our anger appropriately.

The potential to change the situation is created through anger. If a situation is causing us to become angry we have the ability to change the situation to remove the anger causing stressors. Anger also allows us to express our emotion; this naturally prevents us from supressing our emotions and reduces the negative effects of anger on both our physical body and our psyche. It is however necessary to learn how to appropriately express our anger.

In Mann (2012), the causes of anger have been categorised into eight motivators, these include:

- Frustration / irritation – these block us from attaining our goals or getting and doing the things we want
- Abuse – when others disrespect us or treat us badly
- Injustice – when we believe that we have been treated unfairly
- Unmet expectations – when our expectations for a situation are different to the actual occurrence it disappoints us
- Unethical behaviour – when others behave immorally, taking advantage of people or situations
- Lack of support – we feel that people are not on our side or supporting us
- Lack of communication – when we feel that we have been left in the dark about something, we have been excluded from the communication loop or we are not allowed to voice our opinion
- On-going issues – the reoccurrence of issues

Anger causes physiological changes in the brain. The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland at the base of the skull to release hormones that affect our entire body. Adrenalin and cortisol work through the cardiovascular system to increase the heart rate and increase the blood pressure, allowing oxygen-rich blood to reach the areas of the body needed to fight or flee from the cause of the frustration. The cortisol released allows the liver to convert its glycogen into glucose that supplies an increase in ready energy again to fight or flee.

The symptoms of anger include aching limbs, headaches, fatigue, dry mouth, stomach-ache and dizziness. If the anger is prolonged the effects are more pronounced and include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, exhaustion, skin disorders and frequent bouts of flu. Anger may lead to feelings of hate or humiliation (Fitness: 2000). However, people who suppress their anger tend to have higher blood pressure (Harburg et al: 1973) and hypertensive personalities (Robins & Novaco: 2000).

Males and females do not differ in how often or how intensely they become angry but they do differ in how they express their anger (Mann: 2012). Men are shown to be more aggressive and are perceived by others to be more aggressive than females. Women who express their anger attract more negative descriptions than men. The display of anger in the form of aggression seems to enhance the masculinity of males but detracts from the femininity of females (Miron-Spektor & Rafaeli: 2009).

Children seem to get angry when they feel that they are being misunderstood, they are the victim of injustice, they are being unfairly treated or their goals are being thwarted (Tavis: 1989). In light of this, the adolescent’s cause for anger is an extension of this and seems to be focused on their teachers, the school, their peers, siblings and their parents. Some of the triggers for adolescent anger include:


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Anger and Aggression as correlates of Depression in South African Adolescents.
( Atlantic International University )
Master of Psychology
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anger, aggression, depression, south, african, adolescents
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Gary Elliott (Author), 2013, Anger and Aggression as correlates of Depression in South African Adolescents., Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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