The research team had access to a data set of over 90,000 high school students from 142 schools in the US in grades 7 to 12. Over 6,000 people were interviewed and asked, among other things, to name five male and five female friends and about their violent behavior.
Furthermore, results from the study show that the influence of one violent person can spread through up to four degrees of separation.
First, they were asked whether they had been in a serious fight in the past 12 months. Second, whether they had pulled a weapon against somebody in the past 12 months and third, if they had hurt someone severely enough to necessitate medical assistance over the same period of time.
“We found that participants were 48 percent more likely to be involved in a serious fight, 140 percent more likely to pull a weapon on someone as their friend did and 183 percent more likely to severely hurt someone,” Brad Bushman said.
When asked about the most shocking revelation of the research, he said that it was the extent to which someone could be influenced by the actions of his or her friends.
Speaking about the possible implications of this study in terms of preventing violence in the US and elsewhere in the world, Dr. Bushman said that exposure to violence influences people to behave more violently themselves.
“In terms of prevention, one could try to reduce exposure to violence in schools, <…> in their neighborhoods, at home or even in the mass media that influences us to be violent, so we can prevent this exposure and that will help. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he noted.
He added that in terms of treatment, violence is very stable over time and is difficult to treat, yet it is treatable.
“People use violence to get what they want immediately, but we need to teach people how they can get what they want without resorting to aggression and violence through compromise, negotiation, sharing, and things like that.”
“Empathy is one of the best predictors of pro-social behavior like helping, cooperation and sharing. We need to teach people to look at things from another person’s perspective. Hopefully, that will help treat violence and will also spread through the networks,” he said.
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