Seeing and experiencing violence makes aggression “normal” for children

Monkey see, monkey do, monkey hurt: Longitudinal effects of exposure to violence on children’s aggressive behavior

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

This study reveals that the more children are exposed to violence, the more they think it’s normal. Unfortunately, the more they think violence is normal, the more likely they are to engage in aggression against others. Researchers asked nearly 800 children, from 8 to 12 years old about their experience of violence at school, in their neighborhood, at home, or on TV. Six months later, they surveyed the children again, asking the same questions. This allowed them to test whether witnessing violence—or being a victim of it—led to higher levels of aggression half a year later. It found that the school children who had witnessed violence were more aggressive. Witnessing violence also had a delayed effect—observing violence at the first phase of the study predicted more aggression six months later, over and above how aggressive the children were in the beginning.


Children witness violence at home, at school, in their neighborhood, and in the media. Children may also experience violence, as a victim, at home, at school, and in their neighborhood. A longitudinal study tested whether children who are exposed to a heavy dose of violence come to regard it as normal behavior and subsequently behave more aggressively themselves. Participants were 777 children (8 to 12 years old) who completed questionnaires twice (6 months apart) about exposure to violence (witnessed and experienced), their own aggression, the aggression of peers, and normative beliefs about aggression. The results showed that witnessing violence predicted increases in aggression 6 months later through changes in normative beliefs. Likewise, experiencing aggression as a victim predicted increases in aggression 6 months later through changes in normative beliefs. These findings show that when children think violence is commonplace in many contexts, they are more likely to aggress against others.

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Article details
Orue, I., Bushman, B., Calvete, E., Thomaes, S., de Castro, B., & Hutteman, R. (2011). Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Hurt: Longitudinal Effects of Exposure to Violence on Children’s Aggressive Behavior Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2 (4), 432-437 DOI: 10.1177/1948550610396586

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