From the time they are little, we try to teach our children to use their words instead of their fists. As they get older, we hope we have instilled in them the self-worth and self-discipline that allow them to walk away from a fight. New research shows that there’s good reason for these efforts, and not just to keep our children out of trouble.
A study that followed more than 20,000 middle and high school students revealed that teen girls who suffer just one fight-related injury experience an IQ loss that’s equal to missing a year of school, and teen boys have a similar loss of IQ after two fight-related injuries.
The findings, published by researchers at Florida State University, are significant, because decreases in IQ are associated with lower educational achievement, behavioral problems, and even longevity, the researchers said.
“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,” Joseph A. Schwartz, a doctoral student who conducted the study at the school’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said in a statement.
The study is among the first to look at the long-term effects of fighting during adolescence, a critical period of neurological development. Their findings were outlined in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
About four percent of high school students are injured as a result of a physical fight each year, the researchers said. Not surprisingly, boys experienced a higher number of injuries from fighting than girls; however, the consequences for girls were more severe, a fact the researchers attributed to physiological differences that give males an increased ability to withstand physical trauma.
The researchers found that each fighting-related injury resulted in an average loss of 1.62 IQ points for boys, while girls lost an average of 3.02 IQ points. Previous studies have indicated that missing a single year of school is associated with a loss of 2 to 4 IQ points. The impact on IQ may be even greater when considering only head injuries, the researchers said. The data they studied took into account all fighting-related physical injuries.
The findings highlight the importance of developing policies aimed at limiting injuries during adolescence, whether through fighting, bullying, or contact sports, Schwartz said.
“We tend to focus on factors that may result in increases in intelligence over time,” said Schwartz. “But examining the factors that result in decreases may be just as important.”
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