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Witnessing gun violence increases likelihood that a child will also commit violent crime

BOSTON-In a study designed to isolate the root causes of violent behavior, Harvard Medical School researchers found that young teens who witnessed gun violence were more than twice as likely as non-witnesses to commit violent crime themselves in the following years. The study will appear in the May 27 issue of Science.

"Based on this study's results, showing the importance of personal contact with violence, the best model for violence may be that of a socially infectious disease," says Felton Earls, MD, HMS professor of social medicine and principal investigator of the study and of the the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. "Preventing one violent crime may prevent a downstream cascade of 'infections'. And the lessons learned in Chicago should be broadly applicable. Generalizing this to any large city should be valid," Earls said.

The study, a five-year project that included interviews of over 1,500 children and teenagers from 78 Chicago neighborhoods, used statistical advances and extremely detailed information about the study subjects to go beyond the correlations and associations typically used by social scientists to determine violent behavior. "We have a broad range of factors, and a long course of study, so we can tease out the causal mechanisms," said first author Jeffrey Bingenheimer, currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan who will be joining the Harvard School of Public Health in September as Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar.

Previous work has shown that a large network of factors pushes or pulls young people away from or into violent crime. Researchers suspected that exposure to violence in the community played a role, but many argued that a common factor, perhaps in family structure or personality, might be the common cause of both exposure to violence and later acts of violence. Demonstrating cause and effect with a controlled experiment, deliberately exposing some children
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Contact: Leah Gourley/John Lacey
public_affairs@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0442
Harvard Medical School
26-May-2005


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