Witnessing Violence in High School Predicts Student Impairment

The University of Montreal recently completed a longitudinal research study to determine if there is a correlation between witnessing school violence and future behavior impairment. They also looked at if the correlations depended on what kind of violence was observed. The researchers hypothesized that “witnessing violence will be associated with psychosocial impairment risk and will be proportional to the observed intensity.” (Janosz et al., 2018)

This study provided information about the outcomes of school violence which had not been looked at in this manner before. Adolescence is a critical development period so experiencing violence during this period could have detrimental long-term effects. There are three categories of violence, covert, minor, and major. Covert violence is defined as, “acts involving objects that reach the awareness of the witnesses after they are committed, like theft and vandalism.”  Minor violence is defined as, “acts that are modest but occur frequently and are directly towards people, like verbal insults.” Major violence is defined as, “rare but severe acts directed towards people, like physical assault.” (Janosz et al., 2018) This study is unique because data was collected before the violence was experienced; this limits the confounds of the experiment.

The sample size of the study was 3936 students, compromised of 52.1% females, and 47.9% males. All of these students attended schools in Quebec, Canada, and the schools were selected through stratified random sampling. The students were between 12 and 15 years old, and the violence was witnessed at age 13. By chance, the majority of the participants were from disadvantaged backgrounds. The researchers collected data by creating frequency scales and asking the participants to pick a number that related to what was being assessed. Least squares regression was one method used to analyze the results.

The results of the experiment were that 97% of participants reported seeing school violence at the age of 13. The majority of students also reported seeing a major violent event. Lower percentages of students reported being the victim of the violent acts. There was a significant association between seeing covert and major school violence and later drug use and delinquency. Witnessing minor violence was associated with increased depression and social anxiety, and a decrease in academic involvement. Victimization was predictive of delinquency, but did not predict school engagement.

In conclusion, school violence is a normal occurrence in school age children. Witnessing violence was associated with problems two years later. Future research must be completed to see if there is a correlation between witnessing and experiencing violence when it comes to symptoms of conduct disorder. Other research studies could also be conducted to analyze the effects of witnessing violence five to ten years after witnessing the event.

Science Daily news represented the article in an interesting way. The popular media article is titled, “Witnessing Violence in High School as Bad as Being Bullied.” In my opinion, the title of the article did not represent what the scientific article was truly about. The scientific article was focusing on bringing new research that examined if witnessing school violence had an impact on behavior a couple years later, not, if witnessing violence was at detrimental as being a victim to bullying. The research study states, “seeing violence happen might have a comparable deleterious impact as experiencing it directly when it comes to later conduct symptoms, (Janosz et al., 2018). Might is the key word in that quote, this would be an area of further research.

Overall, other than the title being deceiving, the popular media article did an accurate job of representing the main conclusions appropriately. They used common language that the general public could understand without a scientific background, they included quotes from the scientific article, and included quotes from the author that were not in the research article.

The media article left out important limitations of the study and background knowledge of the participants. A major limitation of the study is that the data was collected through self-report. Often when data is collected this way the participants exaggerate their responses, or do not reveal all of the details due to possibly feeling embarrassed. The study also did not account if the participants were the perpetrators of the violence. The results of the study may not generalize to all types of school, because the majority of the participants were from disadvantaged backgrounds. This information that was not included in the media article could directly influence the reliability of the article.

I think that a reader without a scientific background would be able to receive the appropriate message from the media article. The main conclusions of the research were discussed in the media article, but minor details were excluded. If I did not have a scientific background I would not anticipate that there were important aspects left out of the article. Overall, the media article did a good job of relaying the information to the general public, but in the future they should account for small details that could impact the reliability of original source.

References

  1. Janosz, M., Brire, F. N., Galand, B., Pascal, S., Archambault, I., Brault, M.-C., … Pagani, L. S. (2018). Witnessing violence in early secondary school predicts subsequent student impairment. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, jech-2018-211203. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech-2018-211203
  2. Montreal, U. of. (2018, September 17). Witnessing Violence in High School as Bad as Being Bullied. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180917082442.htm
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