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Researchers Identify 6 Factors Which Predict Who Will Become a Bully

posted 12:04 AM EST, Thu July 19, 2012
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Want to prevent your child from becoming a bully? Well, there are some things you can’t change (like prior experience getting bullied) but you can reduce the risk by reducing exposure to violent movies, TV shows and video games.

Researchers at Iowa State University have identified 6 risk factors that predict which children are most likely to be involved in aggression against another student within a year’s time.

The risk factors are:

  1. Low levels of parental involvement
  2. Gender (males are more likely to be involved in aggression)
  3. Prior experience being bullied
  4. Prior experience with physical fights
  5. Bias toward hostility
  6. Exposure to violent media

The Experiment

For the experiment, the researchers enlisted 430, 7 to 11 year old children from 5 Minnesota area schools.

  • Each student was surveyed on their risk factors twice over the course of a school year
  • Each student was assigned an aggression score based on self reports of aggressive acts, peer nominations, teacher evaluations of aggression and school reports of actual violence

The Results

  • The more risk factors a child had the greater the likelihood of aggression. The risk of aggression started to rise dramatically with three or more risk factors
  • Knowing a child’s risk factor score, the researchers were able to predict with 94% accuracy which children would be involved in a physical fight within a 12 month period


The study authors hope their research might lead to a statistical analysis which could help schools identify which students were most l likely to get involved in aggression, bullying and violence.

In a message to parents, lead researcher Douglas Gentile highlighted the importance of minimizing exposure to media violence, stating, "Most of the risk factors for aggression are really hard to change. You can't easily change whether your child has previously been in a fight or bullied. That's what makes this [media violence] different is that it's actually fairly easy to control compared to most of the other risk factors.”

Read the full study results in the July edition of Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

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Story Highlights
  • Bullying: Having 1 or 2 risk factors didn't cause a significant increase in risk of aggression but having 3 or more caused a huge spike in the likelihood of getting in a physical fight within a year
  • Violent Media: Although exposure to violent media is only 1 of 6 risk factors, it is the one that is most easily controlled by parents
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