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The researchers studied data collected in the mid-1990s from more than 5,900 seventh- through 12th-graders at 142 U.S. schools. Their key finding: Students were far more likely to engage in a violent act if a friend had also done so.
The youths were 48 percent more likely to be in a serious fight and 140 percent more likely to pull a weapon on someone if a friend had done the same. They also were up to 183 percent more likely to injure someone badly, the researchers said.
The researchers also found that the spread of violence isn't limited to close friends. It can spread from one person to a friend, to the friend's friend and two more friends beyond, according to the study published online Dec. 20 in the American Journal of Public Health.
"This study shows just how contagious violence can be," study lead author Robert Bond said in a university news release. He is an assistant professor of communication and sociology.
"Acts of violence can ricochet through a community, traveling through networks of friends," he said.
"We now have evidence that shows how important social relationships are to spreading violent behavior, just like they are for spreading many other kinds of attitudes and behaviors," said study co-author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology.
The researchers said the study results highlight the importance of anti-violence programs.
"If we can stop violence in one person, that spreads to their social network. We're actually preventing violence not only in that person, but potentially for all the people they come in contact with," Bond said.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Dec. 20, 2016