First Advisor

Ellen Skinner

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Psychology






Problem youth, Gangs, Gang prevention, Motivation in education



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 209 p.) : ill.


Research on gangs has traditionally focused on identifying the risk factors associated with youth gang membership in multiple developmental domains with limited attention on examining the protective factors that may buffer youth from joining gangs (Howell & Egley, 2005). Educational and psychological research have found robust evidence that school engagement protects youth from a host of risky activities and negative outcomes (e.g., substance use, dropping out of school) and may hold promise in also protecting youth from gang involvement. Therefore, the purpose of the present study is three-fold: (1) to identify students who are at risk for gangs; (2) to investigate whether school engagement can be a protective factor for youth at risk for joining gangs; and (3) to examine whether a well-supported model of motivational development can account for the dynamics that may facilitate or undermine school engagement as a protective factor for gang involvement. Data (N = 342) from an ethnically/racially diverse and socio-economic homogeneous sample were analyzed. Students reported on their levels of (1) engagement versus disaffection from school activities, (2) belongingness, competence, and autonomy, (3) school climate and teacher support, and (4) attraction to and participation in diverse extracurricular activities. In addition, an innovative method for measuring student attraction to gangs was tested. Preliminary evidence indicated that Gang Attraction Profile was a distinct student profile that was structurally different and not redundant with traditional methods of self-reported gang membership. The Gang Attraction profile was sensitive in distinguishing youth of differing levels of gang attraction and gang involvement. Results also indicated that school environments that are experienced as supportive and caring promoted student engagement and achievement. Evidence was found that belongingness to the school played an important role in buffering youth from being attracted to and involved in gangs. Specifically, a student's self-perception of belongingness was related to higher levels of school engagement and teacher support, and lower levels of gang attraction and gang involvement. These results not only highlighted the importance of school belongingness in buffering youth from negative outcomes such as gang involvement and gang attraction, but also revealed a different motivational process that may lead to gang involvement than previously expected. Implications for the design of prevention and intervention programs are discussed as well as directions for future research.


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Portland State University. Dept. of Psychology

Persistent Identifier