Boys Who Bully May Grow Up to Be Abusive Men

Study suggests but doesn't prove link to adult domestic violence

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By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 6 (HealthDay News) -- Though it's not clear whether one type of violence directly leads to the other, a new study says that men who bully others during childhood are more likely to grow up and abuse their wives and girlfriends.

"It helps people think of bullying in somewhat of a different light," said study co-author Jay G. Silverman, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. "There's probably an important connection that we're missing."

The researchers surveyed 1,491 men aged 18 to 35 who visited three urban community health centers; 80 percent were black or Hispanic. More than 40 percent of the men said they'd bullied other kids as children, and 16 percent reported abusing the women in their lives in the past year.

Of those who'd recently abused women, 38 percent said they'd frequently bullied others when they were kids. By contrast, among men who had not been abusive in the past year, just 12 percent had been frequent bullies as kids.

Only 36 percent of those who'd recently abused women said they'd never bullied others, compared with 64 percent of the other men. However, the study does not prove an actual connection between bully and domestic violence but rather shows that a possible link.

Bullying and domestic violence might be linked by a feeling of "entitlement," Silverman said: "the sense that because they are female and because you are male, you have a right to do that."

Todd Herrenkohl, an associate professor at the University of Washington, said the findings are not surprising. "The evidence is rather clear that youth who bully are at risk for other forms of antisocial behavior, then and at later points in life," he said.

Stephen T. Russell, director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families at the University of Arizona, said the study provides more evidence that bullying isn't "just a fact of growing."

"On the contrary, it is a sign of the ways our culture creates such rigid boundaries of 'normal' masculinity -- so rigid that being masculine is hard if not impossible to live up to -- that many young men end up reacting to femininity and other forms of difference with violence," Russell said. "Bullying prevention often focuses on behaviors or individuals. We need to focus on creating cultures of respect and tolerance for difference."

The study was published online June 6 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

In additional research on men and violence, a study published online June 6 in the Archives of General Psychiatry says that the brains of violent men appear to be different from those of other men: Those with a violent history had larger volumes of gray matter in some parts of the brain.

The study authors, led by Boris Schiffer of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, found that the volume was higher in men who had been aggressive throughout their lives and those who had more psychopathic tendencies.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on bullying.

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