Seeing and experiencing violence makes aggression 'normal' for children

Mar 29, 2011

The more children are exposed to violence, the more they think it's normal, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science. Unfortunately, the more they think violence is normal, the more likely they are to engage in aggression against others.

Researchers asked nearly 800 , from 8 to 12 years old, about whether they had witnessed at school, in their neighborhood, at home, or on TV. They also asked the participants if they had been a victim of violence with questions like "How often has somebody hit you at home?" The survey also measured responses to whether aggression was appropriate, such as in the statement: "Sometimes you have to hit others because they deserve it." The final section of the questionnaire measured how aggressive the child was, based both on their own report and what their said about them.

Six months later, they surveyed the children again, asking the same questions. This allowed them to test whether witnessing violence—or being a victim of it—led to higher levels of aggression half a year later.

The schoolchildren who had witnessed violence were more aggressive. Witnessing violence also had a delayed effect—observing violence at the first phase of the study predicted more aggression six months later, over and above how aggressive the children were in the beginning.

The same effect occurred for being a victim of violence. Victimization at the first phase of the study was associated with more aggression six months later, even given the high levels of aggression at the study's start.

The increased aggression was caused in part by a change in how the children thought that violence was normal. Seeing violence—at home, school, on TV, or as its victim—made it seem common, normal, and acceptable. Thinking that aggression is "normal" led to more of it.

"Exposure to violence can also increase aggression regardless of whether at home, at school, in or in the virtual world of TV, regardless of whether the person is a witness or a victim," the authors wrote. "People exposed to a heavy diet of violence come to believe that aggression is a normal way to solve conflict and get what you want in life. These beliefs lower their inhibitions against against others."

Explore further: Difficulty assessing effort drives motivation deficits in schizophrenia, study finds

More information: The article "Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Hurt: Longitudinal Effects of Exposure to Violence on Children's Aggressive Behavior" in Social Psychological and Personality Science is available free for a limited time at spp.sagepub.com/content/early/… 396586.full.pdf+html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Workplace aggression commonplace

Jan 18, 2006

A McMaster University study indicates 47 million U.S. residents are victims of workplace aggression, with the general public the primary source of abuse.

Violent games not to blame for youth aggression: new study

Dec 14, 2010

How depressed young people are strongly predicts how aggressive and violent they may be or may become. Contrary to popular belief, however, exposure to violence in video games or on television is not related to serious acts ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Moebius
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2011
This is obvious. It's a huge problem. It is also a self-sustaining problem. Those that have been exposed will defend their right to keep violence a part of our society violently. And those of you who agree that we need to stop it, are you willing to give up your football and other violent sports among other things?
ereneon
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2011
The article didn't say that football was one of the things that counted as "violence", but neither did it say it was not. Actually I think there is an interesting thing to note here. This is just my anecdotal evidence, but in my experience, people with martial arts training tend to be much less violent, rather than more. I think there is a difference between disciplined violence and undisciplined violence.