Tuesday, May 18, 2004

An unusual study has yielded noteworthy results: Those who treat gunshot victims have found that teens will shun such violence once the glamour is stripped from it.

Trauma surgeons from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore recently asked 96 “at risk” boys and girls ages 7 to 17 to witness aggression and its real consequences.

With the help of the city Police Athletic League, the research team went to an East Baltimore neighborhood and screened a popular rap music video that depicted the singer being shot — only to emerge from the attack unscathed.

Then the young people saw the real thing.

Dr. Edward E. Cornwell, trauma chief at Hopkins and the study director, made sure the audience saw “grisly” images of real gunshot victims — including a pregnant woman who lost her 8-month-old fetus to a bullet and a man whose abdomen was ripped open by gunshots.

The children also got close-up looks of wounds and the emergency care that followed.

“Our study suggests that the kind of romanticized version of violence shown on television can be countered by more frank and open discussions and displays of what violence really does to the body,” said David Chang, a co-author of the study and a Hopkins social worker.

“If you give at-risk youth a true picture of violence, it does change their attitudes, beliefs and intentions regarding aggressive behavior,” Mr. Chang said.

The researchers surveyed 48 of the children in the aftermath.

The graphic images proved to be a reality check for many. Mr. Chang said 32 showed a “a significant reduction in quantified beliefs supporting aggression. There also was some evidence that the youths would be less likely to resort to violence to settle conflicts.”

Mr. Chang said three of the young respondents showed no difference in attitude, five showed “insignificant” increases in violent leanings, and eight did not complete the survey.

The study also reached out to a special audience.

“It is important to include girls in violence prevention activities. Although girls themselves may not act violently, as potential mothers they help shape the attitudes of their future sons,” said Dr. Erica Sutton, also a co-author.

Other research has blamed youthful aggression and risky behavior on popular culture.

Based on a survey of 4,500 children younger than 14, Dartmouth College researchers found that those who watched R-rated movies were three times more likely to smoke or drink alcohol than peers who were barred from seeing the films.

An Emory University study determined that teen girls who watched violent or suggestive TV programs stood a greater chance of becoming pregnant or engaging in risky sexual practices.

In addition, Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers who surveyed more than 2,000 high school students who frequently watched TV wrestling found they were more likely to carry weapons, fight on a date, drink alcohol and use drugs than those who didn’t.

“Violence increases when the exposure to violence increase,” said Dr. Robert DuRant, who authored the study.

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