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New Study Discovers Generation Gap in Our Views of Anti-Social Behavior

New Study Discovers Generation Gap in Our Views of Anti-Social BehaviorNew research has found a significant gap in the views of what, exactly, is anti-social behavior.

The new study found that older people were more likely than younger people to interpret public behavior as anti-social.

For example, more than 80 percent of adults said swearing in a public place was anti-social behavior compared with less than 43 percent of young people, reports Dr. Susie Hulley from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. More than 60 percent of adults listed cycling or skateboarding on the street as anti-social behavior, compared with less than 8 percent of young people. And 40 percent of the adults surveyed said that young people hanging around was anti-social behavior (ASB). Just 9 percent of teenagers agreed, she noted.

“It is notable — and worrying — that young people’s presence in public places, regardless of their behavior, was considered to be an ASB by four in 10 adults,” said Hulley. “The information that adults have about young people, for example from their negative portrayal in the media, often defines them in terms of the threat that they allegedly pose to adults.”

Hulley said she hopes her research can offer “valuable pointers to policy-makers looking to foster more cohesive communities during a time when the generation gap appears to be widening.”

“In the context of increasing distances between generations, between ‘them’ and ‘us’, efforts should be focused on improving social connectedness by bringing adults and young people together so that adults can get a better understanding of young people and their behavior,” she explained. “For example, previous research shows that young people gather in public places, which adults use, to feel safe and that adults often don’t know the local young people, whose behavior they are interpreting and who they perceive as a risk.”

For the study, Hulley compared the views of 185 kids between the ages of 11 and 15 at a Greater London comprehensive school in 2006 with those of more than 200 adults in the same area. The questionnaire listed 18 different behaviors from assaulting a police officer to young people hanging around in streets/parks and set out a series of vignettes to capture the views of the two groups.

A wide variety of behaviors were identified as anti-social, ranging from serious crimes to everyday behaviors such as gathering in groups and playing football in the street, she reported.

The majority of adults and young people agreed that murder, assault, burglary and shoplifting were anti-social behaviors. These were the only behaviors that were interpreted as ASB by at least 93 percent of adults and young people, with no significant differences between the groups, Hulley noted.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was no such consensus, with adults significantly more likely to interpret all other behaviors presented to them as anti-social, including young people hanging around; chewing gum; swearing in a public place; dumping rubbish; scratching names or comments on bus windows; spray painting on walls; and illegal parking.

In comparing the responses to the vignettes contained in the questionnaire, Hulley found that the age of the person defining the behavior affected interpretations, as well as the age of those perceived to be the “perpetrators” and the “victims.”

For example, both adults and young people were more likely to say a group of young people blocking the pavement was behaving anti-socially than a group of middle-aged women with pushchairs who were also blocking the pavement. However, more adults than teenagers identified the young people as anti-social.

A group of girls shouting insults at an elderly lady was defined as ASB by all adults and all but five young people, but only 60 percent of adults and 76 percent of young people defined an elderly man shouting insults at a group of teenage boys as anti-social, according to Hulley. In conversation, adult participants surmised that the boys must have provoked the elderly man and some commented that he was “brave” to confront them, she noted.

“The results of the study show that, in practice, the identification of behavior as anti-social involved an interpretative process that is not based simply on the behavior itself but on the age of those involved,” said Hulley.

“My research confirms that young people are particularly likely to be labeled perpetrators of ASB — especially by adult observers — and are less likely to be recognized as victims of ASB,” she concluded.

The research, carried out while Hulley was studying at University College London, is published in the Journal of Crime Prevention and Community Safety.

Source: University of Cambridge


Man spray painting a wall photo by shutterstock.

New Study Discovers Generation Gap in Our Views of Anti-Social Behavior

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). New Study Discovers Generation Gap in Our Views of Anti-Social Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 26 Jan 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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