We are all familiar with the concept of a virus and how it can spread from one person to another, through human contact or being too close to someone. Computer viruses spread in the same way, often via email or hidden in attachments and videos. But, can violence spread like a virus and is this the reason behind teen aggression?
Contagion of violence
In 2013, a report published by the National Academies of Science titled ‘The Contagion of Violence’ looked at how violence occurs. Their theory was that violence is contagious, spreading from one person to another like a disease.
A recent study by Ohio State University, conducted by psychologists Brad Bushman and political scientist Robert Bond, researched the subject. They focused specifically on teenagers, and their study found that teens with aggressive friends are twice as likely to show violent tendencies themselves.
In the numbers
In the study, teens involved in at least one serious brawl were asked about the frequency of fighting, if they had ever severely injured anyone (to the point of needing medical attention) and if they had ever used a knife and or gun.
The results showed that teens with friends who had admitted to being in a severe fight were 48% more likely to get involved in one themselves. Those who have a sibling(s) with a violent record are 38% more likely to engage in violent behaviour.
Similarly, teens with friends who have hurt someone enough to require medical attention are nearly twice as likely to do the same. Those with friends who have been in a fight involving a gun or a knife are 40% more likely to follow suit.
The study shows that the social network of people (not the social media network) has a strong influence on behaviour in teenagers. The violent acts of their peers’ catches, and they, in turn, become responsible for passing it to others. At the other end of the scale is gang violence and riots that are rapidly growing around the world – in clusters that resemble the spreading of a contagious disease.
The good news is that, like a contagious virus, it can be contained. Preventing people from being exposed to violence can help – encouraging teens to mix with non-violent friends is one example. Aggression in teens can be avoided by finding alternative approaches to dealing with their problems, thus putting a stop to the creation of the virus in the first place.