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Journal Article


Owens DJ, Straus MA. Aggressive Behav. 1975; 1(3): 193-211.


(Copyright © 1975, International Society for Research on Aggression, Publisher John Wiley and Sons)






Data from a national sample survey conducted for the Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence are used to investigate the relationship of three aspects of exposure to violence in childhood (observing violence, being a victim of violence, and committing violence) with approval of violence as an adult. Those who experienced violence as a child tended to favor the use of violence to achieve personal and political ends. However, there was no correlation between childhood violence experience and approval of the use of violence to settle conflicts between nations. It is concluded that the amount of violence experienced in childhood by members of a society is one of the factors contributing to the development and maintenance of cultural norms supporting the use of violence in face-to-face situations. VioLit summary:

The purpose of this study by Owens and Straus was to address the extent to which violence during childhood is associated with the future approval of the use of violence in three areas - nationally, politically, and interpersonally.

This study used information from 1,176 interviews conducted in 1968 by Baker and Ball for the President's Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. The sample was selected using an area probability random sampling method. Telephone interviews were conducted on people 18 years or older. A review of current attitudes regarding the approval and legitimacy of violence in society was conducted. The following three views were explored. First, the greater the observation of violence as a child, the greater the approval of violence as an adult. Secondly, the more a child is a victim of violence in childhood, the greater their approval of violence as an adult. Thirdly, the more a child commits violent acts, the greater their approval of violence as an adult. Because childhood exposure to violence can be interpreted differently, measurement of the approval of violence was correlated and separated into three indexes, national violence (preserving integrity and honor), political violence (means to achieve political ends), and interpersonal violence (face-to-face between friends or acquaintances). Questions on the national index asked how respondents felt about their nation using violence in cases of war, and killing civilians when it was unavoidable. The political index asked for approval of violence used on persons who were armed against tax laws, critical of the government, war protestors, individuals who threaten senators, and the shooting of innocent people. The interpersonal index requested approval of violence when any of the following occurred: a parent spanking or beating a child if the child was noisy, disobedient, expelled, or had broken a law; slapping one's spouse if they were argumentative, insulting, flirting, or unfaithful; shooting one's spouse if unfaithful; a teacher hitting students if they were noisy, disobedient, destructive, or had hit the teacher; a policeman striking a citizen if they acted obscene, were demonstrating, suspected of murder, tried to escape, or attacked a policeman; a policeman shooting a citizen if escaping, attacking, or threatening with a gun; a teenager punching another teenager if disliked, ridiculed, challenged, or hit; a man striking another adult male if he were drunk, had hit a child, had beat a women, or had broken into his home; a man choking a stranger if he had hit a child, had beat a women, or had committed assault and robbery. Measurement procedures included selecting the data that indexed the variables, ranked the responses, summed the responses, analyzed indexes by item, and eliminated correlations falling below.20. Complete information regarding methodology is available in Owens, D.J. (1973), Experience with Violence in Childhood and Adult Violence Approval, Unpublished Master's Thesis, University of NewHampshire, Dur item-total correlations.

The three independent variables, interpersonal violence observed as a child, interpersonal violence received as a child, and interpersonal violence committed as a child were all intercorrelated based on exposure to violence. The results indicated a relationship between each variable which, in the authors' view, justified the existence of a social structure of violence in childhood. However, because the correlations were low (.41 to.63), they were reexamined as separate functions. Moderate correlation was found between the approval of interpersonal violence as an adult and all three indexes of exposure to violence as a child. Although moderate, these correlations were higher than expected, especially when considering that time and other factors would have reduced the correlations between the independent variables (childhood exposure) and the dependent variable (the approval of violence). When the respondent was a victim of the violence, instead of the expected disapproval of violence, the opposite was reported. The authors stated that one can assume that the victim observed the perpetrator getting what they wanted by means of violence. Thus, regardless of the exposure to violence in childhood - observing, being victims, or committing acts of violence - the approval of violence was viewed as a learning situation. The child observed the end results, internalized a view of moral correctness, and learned the reward of violent behavior. Women tended not to have as strong an association of progressing from exposure to approval, as did men. It was assumed that women have different expectations with regard to violence. Women are taught to disapprove of violent behavior. In addition, they cannot make use of violence nor defend themselves against violence, in the same way that men can. No significant results were noticed when controlling for socioeconomic status. Also, educational background had no effect between the association of exposure and subsequent approval of violence. When controlling for sex, SES, and education level, childhood exposure did not correlate significantly with the approval of national violence. The authors reported that behaviors learned from exposure to childhood violence, and subsequent approval of assaulting family and friends, did not extrapolate to situations of war between nations. Political violence was moderately correlated with exposure to violence in childhood. This exposure provided people with behavior models for acts of political violence. Overall, the data in this study displayed a strong correlation between exposure to violence as a child with approval of interpersonal violence as an adult. Approval of political violence was not as strong, and national violence was virtually uncorrelated to exposure of violence. Factors such as SES and education failed to effect results; however, males displayed consistently higher correlations than females. The authors suggested that this paper is proof of the role-model theory of witnessing violence as a child and future approval as an adult. However, role-model behavior was not a factor in the approval of national acts of violence. The authors hoped their results would help in reducing the approval of interpersonal violence and violence in society. In conclusion, the authors stated that this study's findings were consistent with the social-structure theory of violence. This theory posits that the greater the presence of violence in the social structure during childhood, the more the person learns to use violence; and for any set of behaviors characteristic of a population, there will develop a normative counterpart that rationalizes and justifies such behavior. The authors suggested that the high level of violence reported during adolescence is related to the "culture of violence" observed in our society, and that any means to alter violence through education will also depend upon the support from and the change in our social structure. AUTHORS' RECOMMENDATIONS:
The authors suggested that future research should investigate confounders such as: (1) individual's belief in society and their belief in the goodness or badness of specific groups and humanity overall; (2) the situational determinants of being victimized, the expectations of loved ones; and (3) other possible resources that might be available for resolution. The authors thought that longitudinal cross lagged correlation designs could help match measures of experiences with those of actual violence. They also expressed limitations to the scope of this paper, specifically in the use of the phrase "violence as a means of social control." Future studies need to address violence, as it is defined in expressive or instrumental behavior; or as it is deemed to have social legitimacy. (CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

KW - Child Witness
KW - Child Violence
KW - Child Victim
KW - 1960s
KW - Violence Effects
KW - Psychological Victimization Effects
KW - Witnessing Violence Effects
KW - Exposure to Violence
KW - Adult Perceptions
KW - Adult Attitudes
KW - Long-Term Effects
KW - Childhood Experience
KW - Childhood Victimization
KW - Social Structure
KW - Theory
KW - Attitudes Toward Violence

Language: en


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