Aggression Replacement Training® (ART®) concentrates on development of individual competencies to address various emotional and social aspects that contribute to aggressive behavior in youths. Program techniques are designed to teach youths how to control their angry impulses and take perspectives other than their own. The main goal is to reduce aggression and violence among youths by providing them with opportunities to learn prosocial skills in place of aggressive behavior.
The program is targeted at youths with a history of serious aggression and antisocial behavior, and can be applied across several different populations. Some potentially eligible populations include incarcerated juvenile offenders and youths with clinical behavioral disorders. It is recommended that potential participants are screened for risk and severity of aggressive/antisocial behavior before implementation to assess eligibility for inclusion. This type of assessment often includes the use of clinical instruments to examine the degree of problematic behavior in youths.
ART® consists of a 10-week, 30-hour intervention administered to groups of 8 to 12 juveniles three times per week. The program relies on repetitive learning and transfer training techniques to teach participants to control impulsiveness and anger so they can choose to use more appropriate prosocial behaviors. In addition, guided group discussion is used to correct antisocial thinking. The program consists of three interrelated components, all of which come together to promote a comprehensive aggression-reduction curriculum: Structured Learning Training, Anger Control Training, and Moral Reasoning. Each component focuses on a specific prosocial behavioral technique: action, affective/emotional, or thought/values. During program implementation, youths attend a 1-hour session each week for each of the three components.
- Structured Learning Training (action component). This component is intended to teach social skills through social interaction and is disseminated using direct instruction, role-play, practice, and performance feedback. This is intended to give participants the opportunity to practice prosocial responses to potentially difficult situations, such as responding to failure, dealing with an accusation, and responding to the feelings of others.
- Anger Control Training (affective/emotional component). This component is intended to help youths recognize their external and internal triggers for aggression, aggression signals, and how to control anger using various techniques. Participating youths must bring to each session one or more descriptions of recent anger-arousing experiences (hassles), and over the duration of the program they are trained to use specific skills to better control their angry impulses.
- Moral Reasoning (thought and values component). This component is intended to address the reasoning aspect of aggressive behavior, and is specifically designed to enhance values of morality in aggressive youths. Techniques in this component allow participants to learn to reason in a more advanced manner in regard to moral and ethical dilemmas, providing youths with opportunities to discuss their responses to problem situations, taking perspectives other than their own that represent a higher level of moral understating.
A study of Aggression Replacement Training® (ART®) by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (2004) used a pseudo–random assignment waitlist procedure to assign 1,229 adjudicated youths to either a control (n=525) or treatment group (n=704) within 26 juvenile courts in Washington state. To be eligible for inclusion in the study, youths must have met risk assessment criteria for moderate or high risk, as well as have history of a prior charge for a weapon, violent misdemeanor, or felony conviction. Youths who met the selection criteria and had sufficient time on supervision to complete the program were assigned by court staff to the appropriate program. When the program reached capacity (all therapists had full caseloads or sessions were full), the remaining eligible youths were assigned by court staff to the control group and never participated in the program; instead, they received the usual juvenile court services. The sample was roughly 80 percent 15-year-old males. The analyses used multivariate statistical techniques to control for systemic differences between the program and control groups on key characteristics (gender, age, and domain risk and protective factor scores).
Fidelity to program design was a critical element of the evaluation, and courts were rated based on their competency in administering treatment in accordance with intended goals. Based on adherence to program specifications, courts were determined as either competent or not competent. The courts determined to deliver services were then ranked on their relative levels of competency, distinguishing the most competent courts from the rest. Twenty-one courts were judged as delivering ART® competently, which included providing effective treatment to 501 youths. The two highly competent courts provided ART® to 99 youths. Five courts were rated as not delivering ART® competently, which included 108 youths and 203 in the treatment group.
Recidivism was measured by using conviction rates for subsequent juvenile or adult offenses. Three conviction rates were reported: total misdemeanor and felony convictions; felony convictions; and violent felony convictions. The follow-up "at risk" period for each youth was 18 months.
Gundersen and Svartdal (2006) conducted a randomized controlled trial of Aggression Replacement Training® (ART®) in a school setting. Subjects were 65 children and young people with varying degrees of behavioral problems. Subjects ranged from 11 to 17 years old. Potential participants were screened with a simple checklist to differentiate three levels of behavioral problems: “None” (may need social skills training, but has not developed significant behavior problems); “Mild” (exhibits some degree of behavior problems); or “Some” (some degree of serious behavior problems). Participants were divided into treatment and control groups, with 47 assigned to receive ART® treatment, and 18 in the control group assigned to receive standard social and educational services. The evaluation consisted of six substudies in normal schools, two in special schools for adolescents with behavior problems, one in an institution for adolescents with behavior problems, one in a psychiatric child clinic, and one in a specialized group for pupils with Asperger Syndrome.
The outcome measures for the study were social skills, moral thinking, and problem behavior. These were assessed using four clinical instruments. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the program’s effects on participants’ behavior, the instruments were filled out by parents, teachers, and youths themselves; with the exception of the How I Think (HIT) instrument, which was filled out only by students. Pretest and posttest analyses for instrument scores were conducted, and compared among treatment and control groups.
- Social skills. Measured by Social Skills Rating System; used to measure social skills, problem behavior, and academic competence using four subscales of cooperation, assertion, self-control, and responsibility.
- Moral reasoning. Measured by HIT; measures moral thinking and self-serving cognitive distortions in antisocial youths, including four subscales: being self-centered, blaming others, minimizing/mislabeling, and assuming the worst.
- Problem behavior. Measured by the Child Behavior Checklist and the Child and Adolescent Disruptive Behavior Inventory 2.3, which measure specific problem behaviors, activity level, and attention skills.
Felony Recidivism Rates
A study of Aggression Replacement Training® (ART®) by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (2004) indicated that within the 21 courts rated as either competent or highly competent, the 18-month felony recidivism rate was 19 percent, compared with 25 percent for the control group. This translates to a 24 percent statistically significant reduction in felony recidivism among ART® youths in competent courts relative to those who did not receive treatment.
For courts deemed not competent, the 18-month felony recidivism rate was 27 percent, compared with 25 percent for the control group. This translates to a 7 percent increase in felony recidivism among ART® youths relative to those who did not receive treatment, but this finding was not statistically significant.
With all courts combined (competent and not competent), the 18-month felony recidivism rate was 21 percent, compared with 25 percent for the control group. This translates to a 16 percent statistically significant reduction in felony recidivism among ART® youths in all courts relative to those who did not receive treatment.
The findings provide implications for the importance of fidelity during the administration of ART®; as results indicate that courts that implement the program in a competent manner provide more effective reductions in recidivism than courts that do not.
Gundersen and Svartdal’s 2006 study of Aggression Replacement Training® (ART®) found that, based on parent-reported results, there were significant improvements in Social Skills Rating System (SSRS) scores among ART® youths but no significant change among comparison youths. Based on teacher-reported scores, ART® youths demonstrated a significant increase in SSRS scores, while comparison youths demonstrated a nonsignificant change. Based on child-reported scores, there were nonsignificant changes in both ART® youths and comparison youths.
Based on the results, it can be surmised that ART® promoted an effective improvement in social skills among participating youths.
How I Think scores among ART® youths improved significantly for both the treatment and control groups.
Based on parent-reported Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores, problem behavior was significantly reduced among ART® youths relative to the comparison youths, which had no significant changes. Based on teacher-reported CBCL scores, problem behavior was significantly reduced among ART® youths relative to the control group, which had no significant changes. Children-reported CBCL scores indicated significant reductions in both ART® youths and comparison youths.
Based on parent-reported Child and Adolescent Disruptive Behavior Inventory 2.3 (CADBI) scores, problem behavior was significantly reduced among ART® youths relative to the comparison youths, which indicated nonsignificant reductions. Based on teacher-reported CADBI scores, problem behavior was significantly reduced among ART® youths relative to the comparison group, which had no significant changes. Based on a custom-made self-report form adapted to the CADBI, problem behavior was significantly reduced among ART® youths relative to the comparison group, which had no significant changes.