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Childhood Violence Perpetuates Into Adulthood

Updated September 2008 - Research based on data from more than 9300 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2007 found that victims of violence in childhood are more likely to continue the pattern in adulthood, either as victims or perpetrators and investigates how experiences early in life are related to subsequent behavior.

During Wave I of the study from 1994-1995 participants were asked about their experience as perpetrator and/or victim of youth violence (defined as fighting, hurting someone badly enough to need care, threatening or using a weapon, and shooting or stabbing). During Wave III (2001-2002) they were asked about intimate partner violence (defined as threatening violence; pushing, shoving, or throwing something; slapping, hitting, or kicking; or non-consensual sex) in young adult sexual relationships and whether they had suffered physical or sexual abuse and neglect as a child. The study included respondents who reported at least one sexual relationship in the preceding two years. Demographic and environmental variables including parent education, employment status, school enrolment, and local crime statistics were also factored in.

Dr Xiangming Fang (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Atlanta) and Dr Phaedra S. Corso (Department of Health Policy and Management, University of Georgia) found that depending on the type of child maltreatment experienced, victims were more likely to perpetrate youth violence (up to 6.6 per cent of females and 11.9 per cent of males) and young adult intimate partner violence (up to 10.4 per cent of females and 17.2 per cent of males). They identified gender differences in the interrelationship. For example, the association between intimate partner violence perpetration and physical abuse and neglect in childhood was stronger in females. The association between child sexual abuse and future intimate partner violence perpetration was significant for males but not for females. The study also found gender differences in the effects of socioeconomic factors.

Researchers found that victims of child maltreatment were more likely to perpetrate youth and intimate partner violence; there was less association with future victimization. The researchers comment that these findings reinforce the common perception that prevention of child maltreatment may be crucial to preventing future perpetration of youth violence and similarly interventions targeting youth violence may help prevent intimate partner violence.

A more recent study by researchers from Duke University, Indiana University, and Auburn University published in Child Development found an association between antisocial behaviour and related decision making at all stages of adolescence but challenged the common assumption that such conduct is resistant to change.

The researchers studied 522 teenage boys and girls living in three locations in the United States. Participants and their parents completed questionnaires about aggressive and antisocial behaviours (such as fighting, lying, bullying, and stealing) in early, mid and late adolescence. In grades 8 and 11 participants were asked to imagine they were characters in video scenarios and were questioned about aggressive responses to a character acting provocatively and causing harm. Researchers found that antisocial conduct and judgments about aggressive behaviors influenced each other at all stages of adolescence.

Lead author Reid Griffith Fontaine, currently assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, said:

"Our results are particularly notable because antisocial behavior has been demonstrated repeatedly in behavioral science studies to be highly stable (and presumably unchangeable) during adolescence. The powerful relation between decision making and behavior in adolescence that was observed in this study suggests that interventions with antisocial adolescents may focus on changing adolescents' thinking and decision making about aggressive behavior in order to alter their antisocial styles of acting out. Furthermore, interventions may emphasize that adolescents consider non-aggressive ways of responding to provocative situations before deciding how to behave."

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