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Learning English - Words in the News
30 May, 2005 - Published 09:58 GMT
Scientists study violence

Witnessing a violent act makes someone twice as likely to commit a violent crime themselves, according to a study published in the journal Science. The researchers tracked the lives of youths from Chicago neighbourhoods over a five-year period. This report from Roland Pease:

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Violence is a kind of social contagion, says Felton Earls, who led the study, where one act of aggression is likely to lead to more acts, even from onlookers. That violence begets violence is part of folklore, but putting scientific flesh on the notion involved complex statistical tests applied to life details collected from one and a half thousand Chicago youths.

Following them from their early teenage, the researchers were able to factor out complicating social influences like family background, to show that children who had been shot at or witnessed a shooting part way through the study were much more likely to become involved in violent activities by the end of it.

In part this is because the experience adds to levels of anxiety, which destabilises normal behaviour. Although the lessons come from violent US city neighbourhoods, Professor Earls believes they can be applied across the world, particularly to regions of intense conflict where the exposure to violence is much higher. The positive side, he adds, is that, as with infectious diseases, earlier intervention to control the situation can have stronger beneficial knock-on effects.

Roland Pease, BBC

Listen to the words

something bad that spreads quickly (by being passed from one person to another)

people who watch something that is happening, but do not participate in it

makes something happen

the traditions and stories of a community or a country

putting scientific flesh on the notion
proving an idea through scientific observation or experiments

part way through

the state of being nervous or worried that something bad will happen

makes something less firm or steady

exposure to
being made to experience something

knock-on effects
results from an earlier event

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