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Physical Aggression Common in the Lives of Young Adults

Bars most common site of serious events for men, home setting tops for women

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: June 26, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The prevalence of physical aggression among adults "eclipses rates based on police reports or victimization surveys by a factor of 10," according to a study by University at Buffalo researchers recently reported in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

They found that 1 in every 3 men between the ages of 18 and 30 and 1 in 5 women in that age category are the target of physically aggressive behavior on an annual basis.

Bars were the most common sites where men in the study experienced the most severe episodes of aggression and the home setting was the most common setting for the most severe episodes of aggression reported by women in the study.

The researchers noted that "experience with aggression, minor or otherwise, is exceedingly common among young adults, as are observations of aggression and the occurrence of interactions that they judge could have led to aggression."

"Understanding criminal violence necessitates addressing this pandemic level of aggression in our society. Moreover, these experiences may be of importance in understanding people's fear of violence despite the declining rates of violence reported to the police."

Kenneth E. Leonard, Ph.D., senior research scientist at UB's Research Institute on Addictions and research professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was lead author on the study, reported in the May issue of the journal.

Leonard explained that the study was based on data collected in telephone surveys with two groups of adults ages 18-30 living in Erie County. The first was a "community sample" of 967 individuals, including 415 males and 552 females. While some in the first group had some college education or were college graduates, the second group consisted of 433 then-current college students, including 222 males and 211 females.

As part of the "community violence survey," Leonard explained, participants were asked about their experience with physically aggressive behaviors, including how many times they had experienced physically aggressive behaviors in the past 12 months and how many times they had

"resorted" to these behaviors. Aggression included behaviors ranging from pushing, grabbing and shoving, to more severe behaviors such as hitting with a fist and using a weapon.

The researchers, who noted, "that assaults often are embedded in specific social contexts and that the nature, causes and consequences of assaults may differ across the different social contexts," also asked about the location of violent episodes.

More than three-fourths of study participants reported a personal experience with physical aggression. Data showed that 81.9 percent of community males, 86.5 percent of male college students, 77.5 percent of community females and 75.8 percent of female college students had observed physical aggression in the previous year.

Among community participants, 37.1 percent of males and 22.3 percent of females reported being the target of physical aggression, with the incidence among college students being 28.8 percent for males and 16.6 percent for females.

When instances in which the study participants initiated the aggressive actions were included, the rates of involvement in physical aggression in the previous year were 44 percent for community men, 28 percent for community women, 33 percent for college men and 22 percent for college women.

While many of the aggressive episodes involved pushing or shoving, in more than 15 percent of the episodes in which men were targets, a weapon had been used against them. Among episodes the men initiated, 8.1 percent of episodes reported by the community males and 4.5 percent of the episodes reported by college men involved a weapon.

When it came to the "social context" of the violence observed or experienced, participants were asked whether it occurred in the stands at sporting events, inside or outside of a bar, in their own home, in another person's home, at work or school, on the street or in a park, or somewhere else.

"Of all locations, aggression was most likely to be observed in or around a bar, with approximately 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women observing aggression in this venue," the authors reported. When it came to experiencing aggression, 24.6 percent of community men, 17.2 percent of college men, 11.6 percent of community women and 11.8 percent of college women had experienced it inside or outside of a bar.

"These estimates take on further significance," they added, "when one considers that there were a considerable number of respondents (particularly in the college sample) who were younger than 21, the legal age for drinking. Moreover, 20 percent of community men, 24 percent of college men, 36 percent of community women and 26 percent of college women indicated that they had not been in a bar in the previous month. Also, relative to home or work/school, a relatively low amount of time is actually spent in bars."

When it came to location of their most "severe event," the researchers noted that "approximately 30 percent of the most severe episodes as a target or instigator occurred in or around a bar for men."

And while the bar context "also was important for women," the study showed that "as a target, 47.9 percent of community women experienced the most severe episodes in their own or someone else's home, and 62.9 percent of college women experienced the most severe episodes in one of these two contexts."

The study was co-authored by Brian M. Quigley, Ph.D., a research scientist at RIA, and R. Lorraine Collins, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at RIA who also is a research professor in UB's Department of Psychology.

Funding for the study was provided through a $900,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.