ANN ARBOR—Witnessing gun violence in real life or in fiction can have a mental toll on children. The effects, including using guns themselves, sometimes are seen many years later, according to a new University of Michigan study that tracked individuals during a 10-year span.

Whether it’s seeing violent behavior with a family or among others in the neighborhood, or in movies, television or violent video games, the gun use and acceptance among young adults can be traced back to their childhood.

More mass shootings have occurred in the United States, creating increased discussion about gun control. However, far more people are shot and killed daily in single-person, small group or gang shootings, especially in major cities, said U-M researcher L. Rowell Huesmann, the study’s lead author.

Huesmann and colleagues wanted to learn what influences individuals to behave violently with weapons during adolescence and adulthood.

“One important environmental experience that contributes both to predisposing a person to behave more violently with weapons in the long run and to precipitating violent behavior with weapons in the short run is exposure to other people behaving violently with weapons,” said Huesmann, the Amos N. Tversky Collegiate Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies & Psychology and a research professor at the Institute for Social Research.

The researchers selected Flint, Michigan, which has a high gun-violence crime rate, to examine behaviors of youth who were in the second, fourth and ninth grades in 2006-07. The data collection involved four periods, ending with an assessment after 10 years.

The students answered questions about gun exposure within their family or the neighborhood, as well as what they’ve seen in violent video games, movies or TV programs. To determine if certain neighborhoods—defined as located within a one-quarter mile radius of the respondents’ residences—were considered violent, researchers accessed the police department’s crime location database.

Among the findings:

  • Increased early exposure to weapon use within the family predicts more use of or threatening to use a gun.
  • More cumulative early violent video game playing predicts more gun use or threatening to use weapons, and normative beliefs that gun use is acceptable.
  • A greater cumulative early exposure to neighborhood gun violence predicts more arrests for a weapons crime.
  • More cumulative early exposure to movie violence predicts more weapon carrying.

Huesmann said the study shows that people automatically encode certain behavior they see used successfully by others and then cognitively rehearse the actions that are highly salient to them.

In addition, children believe weapons violence is acceptable when they are continually exposed to this behavior, he said. This, in turn, desensitizes them, making it less aversive to think about performing weapons violence.

The study, which appears in the journal Aggressive Behavior, was co-authored by Eric Dubow, of U-M and Bowling Green State University; Paul Boxer of Rutgers University; Brad Bushman of Ohio State University; and Cathy Smith, Meagan Docherty and Maureen O’Brien of U-M.

Study abstract: Longitudinal predictions of young adults’ weapons use and criminal behavior from their childhood exposure to violence

Jared Wadley, 734-834-7719,

An impressive contingent of over 50 U-M ISR faculty, students, and projects participated in the 2019 conference of the Population Association of America (PAA), held in Austin, TX in April. Here is a sample of their research presented at the meeting. There was also a lot of buzz on Twitter, check out our moment: #ISRatPAA.

Congratulations to the following researchers on their award-winning posters!


Race, Childhood Structural Factors, and Cognitive Function in Later Life
Haena Lee, Shannon Ang, and Xinyu Zhang

Haena Lee at PAA

Haena Lee at the 2019 PAA annual meeting.

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study,  Haena Lee (SRC) investigated how social experiences at school and community during childhood shape cognitive health over the life course. Lee’s research showed that Blacks have lower levels of cognitive function than Whites in later life and that this racial gap is partially explained by childhood structural factors. Furthermore, Lee finds that attending racially diverse schools most of the time in childhood is associated with higher levels of cognitive function in later life net of adult experiences. “This suggests that exposure to diverse social settings may serve as mental stimuli, promote social inclusion, and diversify social interaction, benefiting cognitive outcomes over time,” writes Lee. For more information, read the extended abstract here.

Spanking and Young Children’s Socioemotional Development in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Garrett Pace, Shawna Lee, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor 

Country-specific slopes derived from a multilevel model of the relationship between spanking and socioemotional development among 3 and 4 year old children.

Spanking and socioemotional development among 3- and 4- year old children. (click to enlarge)

Research by Garrett Pace, (PSC), Shawna Lee (RCGD) and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, U-M School of Social Work, suggests that spanking may be harmful for children on a more global scale than previously known. Pace et al. analyzed the relationship between spanking and socioemotional development in 62 countries.  Pace says, “What’s fascinating about this is that all the point estimates are negative, indicating that spanking isn’t associated with higher child wellbeing in any of these 62 countries.” For more information, read the extended abstract here.


See all PAA poster session winners here.

Research Highlights

WATCH: John Casterline, PAA President and Population Studies Center training alumnus, delivered the Keynote Address, “Childbearing as a Choice.”


Rising Tides Life Which Boats? Connecting Absolute and Relative Mobility Across Generations
Deirdre Bloome

Deirdre Bloome (PSC)

Deirdre Bloome (PSC, SRC) proposed a new approach toward measuring the transformation of childhood (dis)advantages into adult (dis)advantages and discussed how these mobility patterns vary across people from low- and high-income backgrounds. Extended abstract here.



The Influence of Nutrition Assistance Program Participation in Childhood on Improved Young-Adult Food Security
Noura Insolera, Julia Wolfson, and Alicia Cohen

Food security transitions 1999-2015

Food security transitions 1999-2015 (click to enlarge)

In the United States, 13% of the population is food insecure, including 21% of all children. One in seven Americans receives SNAP benefits and one in two children born each year receive WIC benefits. Using data from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics, Noura Insolera (SRC-PSID) and colleagues found that participation in these programs as a child significantly increase the odds of improving food security in young adulthood. Extended abstract here



Affording the Luxury of Negotiation: Primary Caregivers’ Rules for Adolescents
Asta Breinholt and Paula Fomby

Rule setting by family income quintiles. (click to enlarge)

How do social and economic circumstances shape how we parent? Breinholt (PSC, SRC-PSID) and Fomby (PSC, SRC) and found that affluent parents are less likely to have clear and enforced rules compared to other caregivers. It turns out that rich parents can quite literally afford the luxury of negotiating with their kids. Extended abstract here




Exposure to Global Cultural Scripts Through Media and Attitudes Toward Violence Against Women
Jeffrey Swindle

Media content in Malawi. (click to enlarge)

International organizations disseminate specific messages, or global cultural scripts, about what constitutes a modern lifestyle. A person’s exposure to these scripts can influence their attitudes. Swindle (PSC) focused on scripts that denounce violence against women as unjustified and examined the spread and influence of those scripts through media in Malawi from 2000-2016. He finds that these international organizations spread global cultural scripts critical of violence against women in Malawi through targeted radio programs and newspaper articles and Malawians’ exposure to these difference scripts has divergent effects on their attitudes. Read the paper here


Maternal Work, Schedules and Hours Volatility, and School Readiness
Natasha Pilkauskas

Natasha Pilkauskas (PSC)

Precarious employment, or uncertain or unpredictable work, has risen in recent decades especially among economically disadvantaged groups. Research has found that many workers, especially those in service-sector employment, receive schedules on short notice, have schedules that change on a weekly basis and may not have consistent level of work over time. So, how might volatility in maternal work hours and schedules in early childhood affect school readiness? Natasha Pilkauskas (PSC) found that although changes in work hours or shifts over time are not association with school readiness, irregular shifts (work that changes weekly) are associated with greater behavioral problems in early childhood. Extended abstract here


Adolescent Technology, Sleep, and Physical Activity Time in Two US Cohorts
Paula Fomby, Joshua Goode*, Kim-Phuong Truong-Vu*, Stefanie Mollborn
(* University of Colorado Boulder)

Technology use as primary and secondary activities 2002 and 2014. (click to enlarge)

Adolescents’ electronic media use has increased by 14% since 2002, with increases occurring primarily as the result of increased technology use as a secondary activity. Paula Fomby (PSC, SRC) argues that we need to start studying teens’ tech use as a health behavior to really understand implications on their development. Draft paper here




Residential Integration in the Suburbs: What Happened in Metropolitan Detroit and Why
Reynolds Farley, PSC

Trends in residential segregation in Detroit, 1940-2015 (click to enlarge)

Following the July 1967 violence in Detroit that led to 43 deaths; President Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission and they quickly and famously observed – that if present policies continued, the nation’s metropolises would soon consist of a central city with an overwhelmingly low-income minority population and a largely white and much more prosperous suburban ring. Their conclusions were based, in large part, upon their analysis of Detroit and similar Rust Belt cities. Fifty years later, the city of Detroit has an 80% minority population with a high poverty rate of 35%. However, the middle class African-American population, since 1990, has moved to the suburban ring where segregation levels – in both neighborhoods and schools – are moderate to low. This analysis describes what happened in Detroit and explores why. Read more here


Faculty Profiles

ISR’s faculty experts conduct groundbreaking and wide-ranging social science research — representing more than 20 academic disciplines. Included below are two examples of the type of work being done by members of our team.

  • Yajuan Si

    Research Associate Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, Research Associate Professor, Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Adjunct Lecturer in Statistics and Adjunct Lecturer in Quant Methods and Social Science Program, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
    Yajuan Si is a Research Associate Professor in the Survey Methodology Program, located within the Survey Research Center at the … more
  • Roderick J Little

    Richard D Remington Distinguished University Professor of Biostatistics, Professor of Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Professor of Statistics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Research Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research
    Rod Little chaired the Biostatistics Department from January 2007 to December 2009, and from 1993 to 2001. Prior to that … more