Values come not just from the home, but also school and peers: Dr. Ariel Knafo of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.Teens who believe “might makes right” are more likely to engage in school violence. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found that the values children believe in help determine whether they will – or won’t – take part in violent behavior at school.

This study tested the hypothesis that values (defined as “abstract goals serving as guiding life principles”) become important predictors of adolescent violent behavior in school environments, especially schools where violence is common.

The study comprised 907 Arab and Jewish adolescents attending 33 Israeli schools in grades 10 to 12 (median age: 16.8), who self-reported their values and their behavior. The researchers, Dr. Ariel Knafo and Ella Daniel from the Department of Psychology and Dr. Mona Khoury-Kassabri from the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare distributed questionnaires among the teens who answered questions on the importance of 10 different values and their own violent behavior, and that of their classmates.

The research, which was funded by the German-Israeli Foundation for Research and Development, was published in the July issue of leading journal Child Development. It suggests that if the educational system stresses certain values to the students, it will reduce violent behavior in schools.

Violence and Values

Values were defined as goals and ideas that the students saw as important and guiding principles in their lives. Violent behavior was defined as actions like hitting and threatening. The prevalence of violence in the schools was estimated by averaging, in each school, adolescents’ reports of their own violent behavior, violent behavior by their two best friends, and the violence they had encountered at school.

The study reveals that in both Jewish and Arab schools, adolescents who value power (defined as “trying to attain social status by controlling and dominating others”) reported more violent behavior than their peers. Teenagers who valued universalism (“promoting understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protecting the welfare of all people and nature”) and those who valued conformity (“limiting actions and urges that might violate social expectations and norms”) reported less violent behavior than their peers.

According to the researchers, the connection between values of power and universalism to teenagers’ behavior was especially strong in schools where students had frequent exposure to violence.

According to Knafo, the main author of the study, the findings show that even across different cultural contexts, stressing values in schools may help to prevent violent behavior. “The research results suggest that programs which promote universal values instead of power values can, if properly implemented, help reduce violence in schools.”

“One interesting thing that people often ask is ‘where do values come from’, Knafo tells ISRAEL21c. “There’s an Israeli expression that goes ‘values come from the home’, and this is true to a certain extent but its more complex than that, and school and peers play a part as well.”

Values man

Ariel Knafo’s research focuses on understanding the development and consequences of values and of pro-social behavior. To that end, he uses approaches from developmental psychology, social psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and behavior genetics. His current research involves understanding how value priorities in adolescence develop in different contexts, and the genetic and environmental contributions to pro-social behavior and altruism.

Another recent study co-authored by Knafo, together with Neta Galansky of the Department of Psychology at Tel-Aviv University, focused on the values transmitted from children to their parents. Israel’s immigrant society and wide range of populations provides fertile soil for this kind of research, Knafo says. “It’s a wonderful place to do research on values and culture even though we’re far from understanding it,” Knafo smiles.

In the child-parent value transmission study, Knafo and Galansky reviewed the evidence and proposed five main processes of child influence: Passive influences, causing change in parental values by the mere presence or development of children; active influences, due to children directly attempting to influence their parents’ opinions or providing parents with relevant information; differentiation, the emergence of a distinction between parents’ own personal values and their socialization values [the values that parents wish for their children]; reciprocal influences; in which parents’ and children’ influences are intertwined; and counter-influences, in which parental values change in a direction opposite to that of children’s values.

“Value transmission from child to parent is particularly true in an immigrant society like Israel where the parents come knowing that their children are going to be exposed to different values than the ones at home” Knafo says. “We usually think of values as a fixed system that’s shared by everyone in society. But values are about choice, valuating things and comparing them. We don’t know a lot abut how these processes occur but they’re taking place as we speak.”

In 2007, Knafo was awarded an Early Career Scientific Achievement Award from the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD).