CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The
culture of a school can dampen -- or exacerbate -- the violent or
disruptive tendencies of aggressive young teens, new research
indicates. A large-scale study from the University of Illinois found
that while personal traits and peer interactions have the most
direct effect on the aggressive behavior of middle school students,
the school environment also influences student aggression.
The study assessed individual, family
and school predictors of aggression in 111,662 middle school
students. The findings appear in the March 2007 issue of the
journal Youth & Society.
The researchers used a statistical
method called hierarchical linear modeling, which separates
individual and contextual effects to determine the relative
importance of each. The data were compiled from surveys of sixth-,
seventh- and eighth-graders at geographically, socioeconomically and
racially diverse middle schools.
In the surveys, the students were
asked to report how many times in the previous six months they had
acted mean toward others, hit others or got into fights. The
students also reported on how they reacted to events that upset
them, their daily experience of problems or hassles, and their
perceptions of family and teacher social and emotional support.
Other questions measured the students'
sense of belonging in school, their perception of the fairness of
school disciplinary actions and policies, and the presence or
absence of cultural sensitivity training. The students were also
asked to report on whether their school offered them opportunities
to participate in rule making or otherwise contribute to shaping the
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"The school had a
relatively modest but nonetheless significant effect on student
aggression," said professor of family medicine Janet Reis. "The
dimensions that were found to be important were supportive
decision-making, students' inclusion in helping set up the school
culture -- in general (providing) a more democratic and participatory
Teaching strategies that emphasized understanding over memorization
and cultural sensitivity training also appeared to reduce aggression
at school, Reis said.
"The direction from this is that
teachers and administrators might explore how to include
participation from their students," Reis said. "If schools keep
remembering that they really do have an impact on the children who
come in every day, that it matters how the adults configure the
school day, then the correlational evidence from this study is that
you can expect to see, on average, some diminution in aggression and
disciplinary cases, which are the bane of all school
Peter Mulhall, the director of the
Center for Prevention Research &
Development at the Institute
of Government and Public Affairs, and internal medicine resident
Mickey Trockel co-wrote the study with Reis.
[Text copied from
of Illinois news release]