The Science of Violence

In recent times, violent acts have been reported around the world, occurring for various reasons. We’ve seen a student in Singapore attempt to slash at another in a fit of pique. In the Middle East, some commit acts of violence for what they believe in. We may even have heard of stories of individuals inflicting physical harm on themselves, perhaps out of grief or frustration (maybe even over a departure of a young musician from a popular boy band).

Violence is an interesting phenomenon. It is defined as the use of physical force with the intent of injuring, harming or hurting another. Pragmatically speaking, violent behaviour doesn’t make much sense. Wounding your fellow man is of purely detrimental effect to society, though perhaps the offender may find it beneficial on an emotional level. Still, it’s not exactly in human nature to be violent for no reason.

Even if there were a reason to hurt another, perhaps out of vengeance or spite, is the violent behaviour justified? The use of brute force is regarded as an uncivilised and uncultured response to provocation. With all the intelligence of mankind, surely it would be wiser to take a more diplomatic and non-violent approach?

There’s also the cases where individuals do violence unto themselves (that is, self-harm). In an effort to rationalise an otherwise irrational act, some say the presence of physical pain helps them cope with the emotional pain of their lives. The question is: how does one come to equate self-injury to be an appropriate analgesic to life’s hardships and ordeals?

Science has found ways to explain why some people end up being more violent than others. The two most common proposed reasons are as follows:

  1. Upbringing

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that a strong relationship exists between childhood maltreatment and the risk of later becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence. People who had experienced violence in their childhood had shown a higher risk of experiencing violence further on in their lives. The evidences and results of surveys for such findings can be found in this article. For example, school-aged children who witnessed violence exhibited a wide range of problems, which included depression, anxiety, and violence towards peers. It has been proven that children from tumultuous family backgrounds are more likely to exhibit violence. A recent incident of a slashing incident at an ITE in Singapore raised several questions. Was it due to a troubled childhood? Or was it something else? Regardless, based on research results, upbringing certainly plays an important role in the violence levels of people.

The slashing incident in question.
The slashing incident in question.

 

  1. The Mass Media

Another factor which leads to an increase in the violence levels of people is the mass media. Numerous research findings have shown that the mass media increases the perpetuation of violence among young people. The media has the power to desensitize people’s perception of violence via repeated exposure. This chronic exposure to violence is believed to cause changes in affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes. Specifically, these effects are considered to foster the adoption of desensitized thoughts towards violence. Moreover, consistent portrayals of violence in the media increases the public’s tolerance level to violence. The comedic portrayal of many forms of violence in the media, such as television shows, advertisements and magazines or comics, in an attempt to create humour, makes light of violence and somewhat ‘normalises’ it. This also desensitises young people, and they may find it ‘acceptable’ to adopt violent behaviours, thus resulting in the increase in the level of violence.

For example, following the news release about the departure of One Direction member, Zayn Malik, from the band, acts of self-mutilation have been reported among his more hardcore fans. Especially evident on Twitter, trending hashtags such as ‘#cutforzayn’ were especially rampant, and the number of people who inflicted harm on themselves increased at an astonishing rate. From this recent occurrence, we can see how much power the mass media has over people, and it is most definitely a significant cause affecting the violence levels among people.

One Direction, minus one. Zayn Malik parts ways with the popular boy band and leaves fans in tears... and blood.
One Direction, minus one. Zayn Malik parts ways with the popular boy band and leaves fans in tears… and blood.

 

Other reasons

Besides the above-mentioned reasons, there are other reasons that account for other forms of violence towards different groups of people, due to different religion, beliefs, ideals, cultures, or simply fulfilling the need for power and control. Examples of violent conflicts that clearly show these reasons are the ones associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group widely classified as a terrorist organisation in numerous countries.

ISIS militants fight for their beliefs.

To conclude, there are many different causes, effects, and forms of violence. However, whatever the cause or effect, or forms of violence, it is never a positive thing and should always be avoided whenever possible.

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