School Shootings Research Paper


In recent years, the United States and several European countries have suffered from a number of school shootings. In addition to the tragic direct consequences for the victims and their families, school shootings, much like terrorist attacks, may dominate news for days, having a traumatic effect on millions of other people. Lynn A.

Addington (2003) uses National Crime Victimization Survey data to explore the effects of the Columbine High School Shooting on students’ fear, finding that students were slightly more fearful afterwards.1 Sandro Galea et al. (2002) document that the 9/11 terrorist attack resulted in thousands of New York City residents developing posttraumatic stress disorder, and William E. Schlenger et al.

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(2002) showed that this was also the case in other parts of the United States. Edward B. Blanchard et al. (2005) found that the college-age population in the United States still suffered from the 9/11 attacks in the fall 2002, with a larger effect in cities closer to New York City.

Their findings indicate that traumatic news may have a long-lasting influence.Finland has witnessed two school shootings in recent years, both of which received wide media cov-erage. The first one took place in November 2007 in Jokela in Southern Finland, and the second one in September 2008 in Kauhajoki in Western Finland. We focus on the second shooting as it coin-cided with national high-school matriculation exams.

2 As some of the tests took place before the shooting and others after, we can perform a difference-in-differences (DID) analysis to uncover how the school shooting affected the test scores. Our treatment group consists of tests that took place in 2008 after the shooting, and the control group of tests that took place before. We first calculate for each gender how performance changed in comparison to the previous or an earlier year in both of these groups. Comparing the change in the treatment group to the one in the control group gives us an estimate for the effect of the school shooting on student performance.

We study the reactions of men and women separately, as previous research has documented various gender differences. Women are found to suffer more often from acute and posttraumatic stress disor-der (see Murray B. Stein et al. 1997; Galea et al.

2002; Schlenger et al. 2002; Roxane Cohen Silver et al. 2002; Randall D. Marshall et al.

2007; Rajiv Jhangiani 2010). This suggests that women would also respond to the school shooting more strongly. On the other hand, there is a vast literature (see Kathryn E. Grant et al.

(2006)) showing that social support protects young people from the negativeeffects of stressors (a buffering effect). Kenneth S. Kendler, John Myers, and Carol A. Prescott (2005) find that women have, on average, wider social networks than men.

This suggests an opposite gender pattern: wider social networks could give women more protection against the adverse effects of the shocking news. There is extensive evidence on gender differences also in other contexts both in psychological and economic literature (Alice H. Eagly 1995; Stein et al. 1997; Francine D.

Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn 2000; Grant et al. 2006; Rachel Croson and Uri Gneezy 2009).Using DID analyses, we find that the average examination results of young men declined due to the shooting, whereas we do not observe a similar pattern for women.

To test for gender differences in reactions to the school shooting, we present a difference-in-difference-in-differences (DDD) analy-sis. The performance of men declines more than the performance of women in all specifications. This difference is statistically significant in two out of four specifications.The school shooting in 2008 took place at the Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.

Universities of applied sciences provide bachelor-level education, and are a common choice after high school. Some of the students taking their matriculation exams may have thought that if the shooting had taken place a couple of years later, they might have been among the victims. In addition, the Kauha-joki shooting may have reactivated tragic memories from the previous year shooting in the Jokela region.We study separately the effects of the school shooting in the region in which it occurred, in the re-gion in which the first school shooting had taken place, and in the rest of the country.

We analyze the Jokela region separately in order to avoid the risk that the results for the rest of the country would be driven by possible reactivation of painful memories among those who had lost a relative or friend in the previous shooting.Most of the previous research on the psychological aftermath of shocking news has relied on survey data (see Galea et al. 2002; Schlenger et al. 2002; Silver et al.

2002; Mohammad R. Torabi and Dong-Chul Seo 2004; Blanchard et al. 2005; Galea and Heidi Resnick 2005). Collecting such data could trigger traumatic memories, especially among those who reacted to the events most strongly.

5 Another important challenge with survey data is commensurability: respondents with the same symp-toms may classify their severity differently.6 A further challenge in using data from the health care services is that many of those who need mental help do not seek it. Our analysis measures responses to shocking news using standardized test scores. As we have results for all students in a random sample of schools, we avoid problems related to sample selection, as well as under- or overreporting of symptoms in surveys.

Previous research related to school shootings has been devoted to the personality and background of perpetrators (Peter Langman 2009; James P. McGee and Caren R. DeBernando 1999; J. Reid Meloy et al.

2001), factors predicting school shootings (Mary Ellen O’Toole 2000; Stephanie Verlinden, Michel Hersen and Jay Thomas 2000), the cultural content in which school shootings take place (Do-reen Arcus 2002; Michael S. Kimmel and Matthew Mahler 2003), and the fear of victimization fol-lowing school shootings (Addington 2003; Clete Snell et al. 2002; Paul B. Stretesky and Michael J.

Hogan 2001). Vicky Curry (2003) examines the psychological effect of a school shooting in the community in which it occurred.Our paper is related to an increasing strand of literature that examines the direct consequences of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, or uses such events as exogenous source of variation to ex-amine some other question. Previous papers have examined the psychological aftermath of natural disasters (Greg Miller 2005; Cynthia L.

Rowe and Howard A. Liddle 2008) or terrorist attacks (Ahern et al. 2002; Blanchard et al. 2005; Jonathan Laugharne, Alexander Janca and Thomas Widig-er 2007; Marshall et al.

2007; Jhangiani 2010; Ughetta Moscardino et al. 2010), exploited exogenous variation in police presence that was caused by terrorist attacks or the threat thereof to study the ef-fects of policing on crime (Rafael Di Tella and Ernesto Schargrodsky 2004; Jonathan Klick and Alexander Tabarrok 2005; Panu Poutvaara and Mikael Priks 2009), or studied the labor market con-sequences of forced migration (Jeffrey A. Groen and Anne E. Polivka 2008; see also Christina Pax-son and Cecilia Elena Rouse 2008).

Our paper proceeds as follows. Section 2 provides background information on Finnish matriculation examinations and the school shooting. Section 3 describes the data and the empirical framework. Section 4 presents the results.

It starts by describing the development of interruption rates, continues with statistics on the average performance, and ends with an econometric analysis. Section 5 con-cludes.

National Matriculation Exams and the School Shooting

In Finland, every student who wants to graduate from high school has to pass matriculation exams in at least four subjects, one of which has to be the mother tongue (Finnish, Swedish or Sami)8. The tests are administered nationally at the same time in each school, with the same questions and grad-ing criteria in the whole country.

In each spring and fall, there is an exam period of two to three weeks. Students have to pass the required tests over three consecutive exam periods. Each test can be taken only on a given day and students have to register for their chosen tests several months in ad-vance. On most of the exam days there are separate tests in different subjects.

In the fall of 2008, the exam period took place from September 12 until October 1. On September 23, a lone gunman murdered nine students and one employee in Kauhajoki at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, before committing suicide. By that time, 18 out of 38 tests had already taken place. This massacre, which took place in the middle of the exam period, dominated the news for several days.

We examine the effects of shocking news by comparing the average of the test scores after the shooting to the ones in the same subjects in previous years. In order to control for possible cohort differences, we also perform a similar analysis for tests that took place before the shooting.

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