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by Dewey G. Cornell, Ph.D., and Ann B. Loper, Ph.D.
The American Psychological Association

School violence is a serious and growing problem in the United States, but some surveys may make it seem even worse than it is, according to researchers presenting at the 104th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Toronto, Canada, August 9-13, 1996.

Psychologists Dewey G. Cornell, Ph.D., and Ann B. Loper, Ph.D., reported the findings of survey administered to 10,909 7th, 9th and 11th graders in a Virginia suburban school district covering attitudes toward aggressive behavior, victimization experiences, weapon-carrying, fighting and other aggressive behaviors, and substance use.

When they first tallied the raw responses, the researchers found some very disturbing results. For example, 16.6 percent of the respondents said they had carried a gun to school during the past 30 days and 29.3 percent said they had been in a fight.

But before and after administering the survey, the researchers took some precautions against gross exaggeration and sloppiness on the part of the survey participants. For example, in the survey they included items like "I am reading this survey carefully" and "I am telling the truth on this survey" and threw out those in which the participant failed to mark "yes." They also threw out any that had missing or inappropriate identifying information, such as grade level, gender or age. They also culled out any in which the participant marked "once" or "more than once" to all six key high-risk items (carrying knife, carrying gun, carrying other weapon, in fight, drinking, using drugs) for behavior in school or for behavior outside of school. As a result, the percentage of students who reported carrying a gun to school dropped from 16.6 to 5.6 percent. The percentage who reported fighting dropped from 29.3 to 19.2 percent.

One particularly notable finding of the survey was the differences between students who identified themselves as gang members and those who didn't: gang members were more likely to endorse pro-aggressive attitudes, report victimization experiences and fights, carry weapons to school and use drugs or alcohol at school.

Where Bullies Come From:

Most of the research on those who engage in bullying behavior (defined as inflicting physical, verbal or emotional abuse on another individual or individuals) has focused on personality characteristics of bullies or their victims. A new study, presented at the APA Annual Convention, looks instead at the familial and environmental factors that may contribute to bullying behavior.

Researchers from the Center for Adolescent Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, gathered data from 558 6th, 7th and 8th graders at a midwestern middle school. Based on their responses to a questionnaire designed to assess the frequency of bullying behavior, the researchers divided the students into three groups: those who engaged in little or not bullying behavior (228), those who reported a moderate level of bullying (243) and those who reported excessive amounts of bullying behaviors (87).

Those who reported the highest bullying behavior were also most likely to report "significantly greater levels of forceful parental discipline, viewing of TV violence, misconduct at home and in the community, and fighting," the researchers concluded. They also spent less time with adults, had fewer adult role models and fewer positive peer influences. Thirty-two percent of them lived in a step-family household and 36 percent lived in a single parent household. They also had a higher level of exposure to gang activity and easier access to guns.


The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


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