[The elaboration of aggressiveness in adolescence: Comparative structural study based on the Rorschach test].

Research paper by L L Schiltz, R R Diwo, C C de Tychey

Indexed on: 03 Dec '14Published on: 03 Dec '14Published in: L'Encéphale


In adolescence, a component of a successful identity quest consists in elaborating the aggressiveness, be it endured or acted out, in an imaginary and symbolic manner. We will present a comparative study between anxious and violent adolescents, based on the Rorschach test. As the handling of aggressiveness by means of various defense mechanisms and coping strategies contributes to the construction of a sense of reality and of coherent representations of oneself and the others, the Rorschach test is a pertinent tool to study the vicissitudes of the identity quest of medium adolescence. On the other hand, many studies demonstrate that it is also a precious tool allowing diagnosis of the risks of evolution towards character pathology and personality disorders belonging to cluster B of the DSM, or towards emotional disorders and suicidal tendencies. Thus, it can help initiating appropriate therapeutic measures in a spirit of tertiary prevention.We present a comparative study between a sample of 20 adolescents suffering from anxiety and inhibition of aggressiveness (subgroup anxiety) and a second sample of 20 adolescents suffering from exteriorized aggressiveness and violent behavior (subgroup violence). The inclusion into the subgroups was based on clinical interviews and a thorough psychological assessment, using the criteria of categorical psychopathology. The comparative study between the two subgroups is based on an original rating scale constructed in the phenomenological and structural tradition, reflecting the global judgment of the experienced clinical psychologist. It permits using the Rorschach test as a research tool by making the step from qualitative analysis towards quantification and the use of inferential and multidimensional statistics. It also allows computing correlations between the Rorschach test and psychometric scales or other projective tests, using specific rating scales of the same type.After showing the descriptive demographic data, we present the results of the comparative between groups study (computed by means of Mann-Whitney's U test) and those of the multidimensional study (computed by means of the optimal scaling procedure HOMALS). The comparative study indicates that, with adolescents suffering from anxiety and inhibition, the emotional and relational needs are much greater, as is the tendency to direct one's aggressiveness against one self. Mentalization, documented by the richness, the originality, the level of integration and the maturity of associations is better developed in this subgroup. In the subgroup of adolescents characterized by exteriorized aggressiveness and violent behavior, the ambiguity of the stimulus causes perplexity, slowing down executive functions. The latent dimensions, extracted with the help of optimal scaling procedures, are meaningful at the light of current clinical psychology and create a typology of the adjustment to aggressive drives. They tend to illustrate the pertinence of the rating scale as a research tool and contribute in demonstrating its construct validity.The data of the comparative and multidimensional study are discussed in relationship with open questions in developmental and clinical psychology of adolescence. They highlight the role of the Rorschach test as a means to differentiate between temporary and long-term difficulties related to aggressiveness, as well as to show similarities and differences at the structural level of personality functioning between subgroups with interiorized and exteriorized aggressiveness. The psychological meaning of the latent dimensions, extracted with the help of optimal scaling techniques, are discussed in light of the recent research literature. Rorschach profiles can help indicate risks of evolution towards personality pathology at adult age. Let us stress that our latent dimensions are not focused on aggressiveness itself but rather on control functions liable to modulate its expression. Using the Rorschach test in pretest and posttest situation and exploring the change occurring during the psychotherapeutic interventions with the help of the rating scale (application of optimal scaling on Delta values) could open interesting tracks for future research in the realm of outcome and process evaluation of psychotherapies.