U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Bidirectional Relations between Witnessing Violence, Victimization, Life Events, and Physical ggression among Adolescents in Urban Schools

NCJ Number
Journal of Youth and Adolescence Dated: 2020
Date Published

This study examined bidirectional relations between physical aggression, two forms of exposure to violence—witnessing violence and victimization - and other negative life events.


Although there is empirical evidence supporting associations between exposure to violence and engaging in physically aggressive behavior during adolescence, there is limited longitudinal research to determine the extent to which exposure to violence is a cause or a consequence of physical aggression, and most studies have not addressed the influence of other negative life events experienced by adolescents. In the current study, participants were a sample of 2,568 adolescents attending three urban public middle schools who completed measures of each construct every 3 months during middle school. Their mean age was 12.76 (SD = 0.98); 52 percent were female. The majority were African American (89 percent); 17 percent were Hispanic or Latino/a. Cross-lagged regression analyses across four waves of data collected within the same grade revealed bidirectional relations between witnessing violence and physical aggression, and between witnessing violence and negative life events. Although physical aggression predicted subsequent changes in victimization, victimization predicted changes in physical aggression only when witnessing violence was not considered. Findings were consistent across sex and grades. Overall, these findings highlight the need for interventions that break the connection between exposure to violence and aggression during adolescence. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020