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School Fights Slash Teens' IQ Points

Update Date: Aug 02, 2013 06:40 PM EDT

School fights can dumb teens down, a new study suggests.

Scientists found that injuries from two physical fights equal a loss in IQ that is equivalent to missing an entire year of school in boys.  However, the study found that girls experience a similar loss of IQ only after a single fighting-related injury.

Researchers said the latest findings are important because decreases in IQ are associated with lower educational achievement and occupational performance, mental disorders, behavioral problems and even longevity.

"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 with Professor Kevin Beaver in FSU's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said in a news release.

Past studies reveal that about 4 percent of high school students are injured as a result of a physical fight each year.

Researchers collected data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine whether serious fighting-related injuries resulted in significant decreases in IQ over a 5- to 6-year time span. The longitudinal study began with a nationally representative sample of 20,000 middle and high school students who were tracked into adulthood through subsequent waves of data collection. At each wave of data collection, participants were asked about a wide variety of topics, like personality traits, social relationships and the frequency of specific behaviors.

Unsurprisingly, researchers found that boys experienced a higher number of injuries from fighting than girls. However, the consequences for girls were more severe.  Researchers said this might because, physiologically, males have an increased ability to withstand physical trauma.

The findings revealed that each fighting-related injury resulted in a loss of 1.62 IQ points for boys, while girls lost an average of 3.02 IQ points, even after controlling for changes in socio-economic status, age and race for both genders. Previous research revealed that missing a single year of school is associated with a loss of 2 to 4 IQ points.

What's more, the impact may be even greater when considering only head injuries.  Researchers said the study included data from all fight-related physical injuries.

Schwartz said that the latest findings highlight the importance schools and communities developing policies aimed at limiting injuries suffered during adolescence whether through fighting, bullying or contact sports.

"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," he said. "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."

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