Belligerence among brothers and sisters can lead to violence later in dating relationships, according to a new study of Florida college students.
Health Behavior News Service - Newswise, May 4, 2004

Newswise — Belligerence among brothers and sisters can lead to violence later in dating relationships, according to a new study of Florida college students.

“Perpetrating sibling violence had the greatest impact on perpetrating dating violence,” says lead author Virginia J. Noland, Ph.D., of the University of Florida. “Parents should know that sibling violence is not without consequences and sometimes the consequences are severe.”

The findings appear in the American Journal of Health Behavior.

Noland and colleagues asked the students about both physical assault and psychological aggression involving parents, siblings or dating partners. Three-fourths of the students said a brother or sister had pushed or shoved them or that they had done so to a sibling.

Males experienced more sibling violence, but women reported more dating violence, both as victims and as perpetrators.

Noland says the context of female-on-male violence is unknown. Women may be more willing to report using a violent tactic with a date without specifying whether the violence was defensive or offensive. Violence by women against a male date also lacks the societal stigma of the opposite dynamic.

In any case, Noland says, violence is much more accepted among both genders today than in the past. The climate of violence in some families may be reinforced by external violence, whether experienced in school or seen on television, has an effect, as well.

“In the media, it’s as common today to see a woman hitting a man as a man hitting a woman,” she says.

Even psychological violence takes a toll over time, Noland says — being called fat or ugly or stupid gets incorporated into a negative view of one’s self.

The researchers found that males reported more violence with their siblings than females, reflecting existing thinking about such conflicts. But relative age proved more important than gender. Children closer together in age experienced higher levels of violence. Sibling violence apparently peaks when the oldest child in a pair is between 10 and 14 years old. It lessens as children spend more time outside the home with their peers.

Parent-to-parent violence also proved to be less important than expected, Noland says. Instead, the effect of parent-to-child violence on sibling conflict was much more significant.

Noland says the findings emphasize the danger of corporal punishment, which she says sends the wrong message — that it’s OK for big people to hit little people.

“Memories of parent-to-child violence experienced by the child supersede memories of parent-to-parent violence that was merely observed,” she says.

“We learn from the behavior of people important to us, especially power figures,” she says. “Children who experience corporal punishment may do it to their younger siblings and eventually to others.” [Emphasis added]

For researchers, Noland says, the next step is to look into the importance people place on violent behaviors to see which is worse, verbal or physical, and to understand the context in which aggressive conflict tactics are used.

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