The Effect of Local Violence on Children’s Attention and Impulse Control

Sharkey, P., N. Strayer, A. Papachristos, and C. Raver
American Journal of Public Health, December 2012, 102(12), 102:2287-2293. 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300789

Objectives: We examined whether the burden of violence in a child’s community environment alters the child’s behavior and functioning in the classroom setting. 

Methods: To identify the effects of local violence, we exploited variation in the timing of local homicides, based on data from the Chicago Police Department, relative to the timing of interview assessments conducted as part of a randomized controlled trial conducted with preschoolers in Head Start programs from 2004–2006, the Chicago School Readiness Project. We compared children’s scores when exposed to recent local violence with scores when no recent violence had occurred to identify causal effects.

Results: When children were assessed within a week of a homicide that occurred near their home, they exhibited lower levels of attention and impulse control and lower preacademic skills. The analysis showed strong positive effects of local violence on parental distress, providing suggestive evidence that parental responses may be a likely pathway by which local violence affects young children.

Conclusions: Exposure to homicide generates acute psychological distress among caregivers and impairs children’s self-regulatory behavior and cognitive functioning.

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Wagner Faculty