Apr. 21, 1997 Houston (April 19, 1997) Adolescents who have been exposed to community violence are more likely to engage in violent behavior themselves, according to the results of a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in San Francisco, April 19.
In her presentation titled "Youth Aggression and Exposure to Community Violence", Jennifer Conroy, M.P.H., UT-Houston School of Public Health, describes how students from a large urban school district who witness incidents involving behaviors such as handgun carrying, fighting and substance abuse, are from two to nine times more likely to engage in such acts. Surprisingly, the source of the exposures was the local neighborhood where, for example, 80 percent of the 12 to 14-year-old study group said they had witnessed a beating, and 50 percent reported seeing drug deals.
Conroy explains: "Analysis of data collected a year into the project revealed that the relative risk for violent behaviors increases with exposure. For example, a youth who had seen people with handguns was seven times more likely to carry one than a youth who had not witnessed this behavior. Overall, there was a strong 'dose-response' association between the extent of the exposure and involvement in aggression and victimization: students who reported seeing more violence also reported being victimized more often, compared to those who had witnessed fewer acts. While this study does not imply a direct cause and effect between exposure and participation in risky behavior, the two are strongly correlated. Other studies have suggested a link between violent behavior and exposure to violence on TV or other media; our research describes a phenomenon which is much closer to home in that it deals with real events in adolescents' own community".
The results are drawn from analysis of 1995 data from the Students for Peace project which looks at the reported behaviors of inner city school students in Texas over a three year period, beginning in 1994. The researchers from the Center for Health Promotion Research & Development, UT-Houston School of Public Health, surveyed more than 8,000 ethnically diverse middle school male and female students. Participants completed a questionnaire which inquired into their experience with and beliefs about behaviors such as handgun carrying, fighting and gang involvement. They also answered questions about substance abuse - specifically alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, marijuana, cocaine and inhalant use. The study is one of 13 nationwide funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), designed to evaluate the effects of violence prevention initiatives. Baseline data from all the projects was published by the CDC in October 1996 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine ; the final results are expected next year.
UT-Houston Associate Professor, Steven Kelder, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study, comments on implications for interventionist programs: "Our results, along with others', suggest that in order to reduce youth involvement in violence, appropriate steps should be taken at the community level. Many questions remain as to where exactly to target remedial efforts, but we now have evidence that young people are strongly influenced by exposure to aggression and violence in their own 'back yard'. An interdisciplinary approach to violence prevention which encompasses the home, school, neighborhood and other community elements would seem to be called for if we are to introduce measures which prevent the exposure, or help young people develop better ways of responding when they encounter violence and aggression."
Note to editors: The 1997 Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting is being held April 16-19 at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency Embarcadaro. The authors of Youth Aggression and Exposure to Community Violence are Jennifer L. Conroy*, M.P.H., Steven H. Kelder, Ph.D., M.P.H., Pamela Orpinas, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Nancy G. Murray, Ph.D., M.A., The University of Texas-Houston, School of Public Health. * Corresponding Author.
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