The contagious spread of violence among US adolescents through social networks

Robert M. Bond, Brad J. Bushman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives. To test the hypothesis that violence among US adolescents spreads like a contagious disease through social networks. Methods. Participants were a nationally representative sample of 90 118 US students aged 12 to 18 years who were involved in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Violence was assessed by having participants report the number of times in the preceding 12 months they had been involved in a serious physical fight, had hurt someone badly, and had pulled a weapon on someone. Results. Participants were 48% more likely to have been involved in a serious fight, 183% more likely to have hurt someone badly, and 140% more likely to have pulled a weapon on someone if a friend had engaged in the same behavior. The influence spread up to 4 degrees of separation (i.e., friend of friend of friend of friend) for serious fights, 2 degrees for hurting someone badly, and 3 degrees for pulling a weapon on someone. Conclusions. Adolescents were more likely to engage in violent behavior if their friends did the same, and contagion of violence extended beyond immediate friends to friends of friends.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-294
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Public Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Child Health and Human DevelopmentP01HD031921


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