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Teenage fights destroy I.Q.

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Physical fights among teenagers can lead to lower I.Q.'s

Teenagers who get into a physical fight can destroy their IQ up to the equivalent of losing an entire year of school, according to a study published by Florida researchers in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The findings of the study are significant, say the researchers, as decreases in IQ are associated with poorer academic performance, as well as behavioral and mental problems, not to mention a shorter lifespan.

"It's no surprise that being severely physically injured results in negative repercussions, but the extent to which such injuries affect intelligence was quite surprising," said Joseph A. Schwartz, a doctoral student who carried out the study with Professor Kevin Beaver in FSU's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The study that Schwartz and Beaver co-wrote, called "Serious Fighting-Related Injuries Produce a Significant Reduction in Intelligence", is one of only a few to examine the long-term consequences of teen-age fighting.

The teen-age years are crucial when it comes to neurological development, and it’s also a time when teens are generally more active in contact sports and other physical activities, which numerous studies have confirmed can cause brain injuries that result in lower IQ's and neurological problems.

In fact, the co-authors wrote in their study that about 1 in every 20 high school students suffers such injuries due to a physical fight.

Accordingly, Beaver and Schwartz set out to determine what effect serious injuries from fighting might have on IQ over a five-to-six year timeframe by gathering and analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health during the years between 1994 and 2002.

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The longitudinal study involved 20,000 middle and high school children who were described as a “nationally representative” sample population by the authors. In this study, the students were periodically monitored until they were adults, at which time the students would answer questions about their social relationships, frequency of specific behaviors and personality traits.

What the researchers found was that more boys get into fights than girls, although girls suffered more from lower IQ afterwards.

This finding did not surprise the researchers because teenage boys typically get into more physical fights than their female counterparts of the same age. Nevertheless, physical injuries from such fights negatively impacted the IQ’s of girls significantly more than boys, which was attributed to the "physiological differences that give males an increased ability to withstand physical trauma."

Specifically, the study found that each fight-related injury resulted in a decrease of 1.62 IQ points for boys, compared to a decrease of 3.02 IQ points for girls. These numbers were calculated after the authors had controlled for factors including changes in race, age, and status.

In previous studies, missing a whole academic year has been shown to equate to a loss of between 2 and 4 IQ points, but when the researchers only assessed head injuries from fights, the loss of IQ was even higher.

According to Beaver, communities and schools need to develop policies that strive to minimize injuries suffered during the teenage years from contact sports, bullying or fighting.

"We tend to focus on factors that may result in increases in intelligence over time, but examining the factors that result in decreases may be just as important,” explained Schwartz. “The first step in correcting a problem is understanding its underlying causes. By knowing that fighting-related injuries result in a significant decrease in intelligence, we can begin to develop programs and protocols aimed at effective intervention."

SOURCE: Journal of Adolescent Health, "Serious Fighting-Related Injuries Produce a Significant Reduction in Intelligence," Joseph A. Schwartz, M.A. and Kevin M. Beaver, Ph.D., published July 26, 2013 (10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.06.007).