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Study: Childhood Bullies Achieve Less As Adults

February 23, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ Aggressive children who bully and harass classmates grow up to be less successful as adults and tend to hold blue-collar jobs, end up unemployed or in prison, researchers said Monday.

In a study spanning 22 years, they found that third-grade bullies had weaker intellectual and professional achievement at age 30 than non-aggressive classmates with the same intelligence level on IQ tests.

″I think there’s a very important message for parents: The traditional view that assertiveness and aggression leads to high achievement and success does not hold up under scrutiny,″ said Rowell Huesmann, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Instead, Huesmann and Leonard Eron, also a psychologist at the university, found the opposite in a followup study of about 300 adults who were tested for aggression and intelligence in 1960 as third graders in Columbia County, N.Y.

″What we found was that aggression in childhood actually interfered with the development of intellectual functioning and was predictive of poorer intellectual achievement as an adult,″ Eron said in an interview.

At age 8, the children were given IQ tests and rated for aggression based on whether they fought with classmates, pushed and shoved or irritated other students by taking their property. Aggressive behavior was defined as an act that injures or irritates another child.

As part of a followup study in 1981, when the participants were turning 30, the researchers found those who were aggressive children scored lower on standard achievement tests than classmates of equal intelligence.

They also discovered the aggressive children were less successful professionally.

″They were less likely to be professionals, say lawyers or doctors or professors,″ Eron said. ″The aggressive children were more likely to have blue-collar jobs or to be unemployed or to be in jail.″

The professors reported their latest findings in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Eron began the research while at Yale University in New Haven. It involved initially testing 875 third-graders in the Hudson, N.Y., area and following up on them in adulthood.

An earlier statistical analysis based on the research found that childhood bullies had about a one in four chance of having a criminal record by age 30.

Eron and Huesmann said the latest computer analysis found a correlation between childhood aggression and lower adult achievement. It involved 300 adults because the researchers did not have complete data on all of the 875 original participants, Eron said.

The newest analysis also was not designed to produce specific percentages or statistics on the number of aggressive children who scored poorly on achievement tests, the researchers said.

″It is impossible to specify percentages of aggressive children who are at risk for failure,″ Huesmann said.

But the psychologists said the results hold an important message for parents: discourage aggressive behavior in children.

Eron said the study also found a correlation between spanking or other corporal punishment in the home and physical aggression in school.

″One of the major predictors of how aggressive kids were in school was how often they were physically punished at home,″ Eron said. ″What you’re doing when you’re spanking them is showing them the way you get what you want is by hitting.″