Firesetting in Adolescence and Being Aggressive, Shy, and Rejected by Peers: New Epidemiologic Evidence from a National Sample Survey

Y.-H. Chen, A. M. Arria and J. C. Anthony,
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 31(1): 044-052, 2003.
This population-based case control study examined the hypothesis that the occurrence of firesetting might be greater in youths who exhibit a combination of shyness and aggressiveness and may be complicated by peer rejection. The study's self-report data were from a nationally representative sample survey conducted in 1995. There were 284 cases involving 12- to 17-year-old youths who self-reported recent firesetting, regardless of their intentions. Control subjects were 4,207 youths with no such history. After subjects were matched according to age and neighborhood, conditional logistic regressions were used for estimation. Moderate to strong associations were observed between firesetting and both shyness and aggressiveness (odds ratio [OR] = 6.6; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.2-20.4) and feeling highly rejected by peers (OR = 14.5, 95% CI = 3.5-59.6). Independently, boys were 3.8 times more likely to be firesetters (p = .001). Although this cross-sectional study revealed associations of firesetting with shyness and aggressiveness, with evidence of a possibly separate influence of peer rejection, correlation should not be construed as causation. More longitudinal research is needed to clarify temporal sequencing of these characteristics. Prevention trials may indicate whether firesetting can be reduced by amelioration of socially maladaptive behavior and peer rejection as manifested in the child and teenage years.