The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Pinker on the Changing Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 21, 2011

From the Harvard Gazette:

Steven Pinker wants you to know that violence has declined.

Despite civil wars in Africa and the Mideast, ongoing strife in Afghanistan, and the barrage of local and national crimes reported on the nightly news, people are living in a much more peaceful era than they might think.

“During the thousands of years humans spent as hunter-gatherers, the average rate of violent death was higher than the worst years of World War II, and about five times higher than the rate of death from all wars, genocides, and human-made famines in the 20th century,” said Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology and Harvard College Professor.

“Believe it or not … today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” wrote Pinker in his latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” which takes its title from that age-old dichotomy: the devil on one shoulder, whispering temptation, enticing us to act on sinister urges, and the angel on the other shoulder, holding us back with caution and consequence.

“Human nature is extraordinarily complex, and includes both bellicose and peaceable motives. Outbreaks of violence or peace depend on which is more engaged in a given time and place,” said Pinker. “Among the better angels of our nature — the psychological faculties that caused violence to decline —  are self-control, empathy, and a sense of fairness.”

But, Pinker added, “My most surprising discovery was that the most important better angel may be reason: the cognitive faculties with which we understand the physical and social world. It was an ironic discovery, given that cognition and language are my research specialty.”

What historical forces have been engaging these better angels? Pinker cites “the outsourcing of deterrence and revenge to a disinterested third party, including the police and court system; the growth of commerce, which replaces zero-sum plunder with positive-sum trade and reciprocity; the forces of cosmopolitanism, such as mobility and literacy, which encourage people to take other vantage points and hence consider their interests; and the growth of education, public discourse, science, and abstract reasoning, which discourage parochial tribalism and encourage people to treat violence as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.”

To put this all in context, Pinker shows that homicide rates in Europe have declined 30-fold since the Middle Ages. Human sacrifice, slavery, punitive torture, and mutilation have been abolished around the world. And, he said, “Great powers and developed countries have stopped going to war. And in the world as a whole, deaths in warfare may be at an all-time low.”

In his research, Pinker’s favorite discovery was learning that “every category of violence — from deaths in war to the spanking of children to the number of motion pictures in which animals were harmed — had declined.” That, he admitted, “makes the present less sinister, the past less innocent.”

He believes that “forms of institutionalized violence that can be eliminated by the stroke of a pen — such as capital punishment, the criminalization of homosexuality, the callous treatment of farm animals, and the corporal punishment of children in schools — will continue to decline, because decision-making elites will continue to be swept by the humanitarian tide that has carried them along for centuries.”

* * *

“. . . . ‘Better Angels’ made me appreciate the forces of civilization and enlightenment which have made our lives so much more peaceable than those of our ancestors: the police, a court system, democracy, education, literacy, commerce, science, the Enlightenment, and the forms of secular humanism that grew out of it — which are easy to take for granted.”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

One series of posts was devoted to the situational sources of war.

To review a larger sample of posts on the causes and consequences of human conflict, click here.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Education | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Heat of the Moment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2011

From Wired Science:

The link between violence and hot weather is so intuitive that it’s embedded in our language: Hotheads lose tempers that flare, anger simmers and comes to a boil, and eventually we cool down.

So what does science have to say? Do tempers truly soar with temperature? The answer, appropriately enough for these triple-digit days, is hazy and hotly contested.

To be sure, extensive literature exists on hot weather and violence, stretching from poorly controlled regional studies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — oh, those hot-blooded southerners! — to more sophisticated modern analyses. This doesn’t just apply to the United States, but countries like England and Wales and New Zealand.

But whether weather is cause or coincidence is difficult to determine.

Perhaps the most detailed studies, led by psychologists Ellen Cohn and James Rotton of Florida State University, involved violent crime over a two-year period in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cohn and Rotton classified assaults according to time of day, day of week, and month and temperature. They ultimately concluded that violence rose with temperature, but only to a point.

Around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, assault rates started to fall, a trend that dovetailed with a hypothetical explanation for heat-induced violence in which being uncomfortable provokes competing tendencies of both aggression and escape. At low to moderate levels of discomfort, people lash out, but at high levels they just want to flee.

But the results also fit with a sociological rather than psychological explanation. According to so-called Routine Activities Theory, many forms of violent crime are functions of social opportunity, and increase when more people spend more time outside. When it becomes so hot that people retreat inside, crime falls. Cohn and Rotton supported this explanation.

Cohn and Rotton’s interpretations of the numbers, however, were contested by Iowa State University psychologist Craig Anderson, who felt they hadn’t fully accounted for time-of-day effects. His own take on the data (.pdf) produced a linear relationship between heat and violence, with assault rates peaking at the highest temperatures.

A straight-line relationship supports various psychological and physiological processes.

In hot weather, the body exhibits changes — increased heart rate, blood circulation and sweating, and metabolic changes — associated with sympathetic nervous system activity, which in turn is linked to fight-or-flight responses. Hot weather also increases testosterone production, tilting that equation towards fight.

More.

Related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Environment | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Holder on the Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2011

In 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the launch of the “Defending Childhood” initiative to help prevent children’s and young people’s exposure to violence, mitigate its effects and put an end to cycles of violence that undermine the public’s health. During this webcast, he described his vision for this initiative and its progress so far.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Education, Emotions, Life, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Power of Suggestion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

In the wake of the massacre in Tucson one of the debates has been over whether a toxic environment might have contributed to the assailant’s behavior.  Social psychology has demonstrated countless times the power of seemingly trivial situatonal forces to encourage hostility and violence.  One of the classics is a 1975 study of the effects of dehumanization.

Here is a 1999 summary of that study by Situationist Contributor Phil Zimbardo.

* * *

My colleague, Albert Bandura, and his students contnued this line of research by extending the basic paradigm here to study the minimal conditions necessary to create dehumanization (Bandura, Underwood, & Fromson, 1975). What they manipulated was only the actors’ perceptioin of their victims–no authority pressures, no induced anonymity. A group of college students expected to help train another group of students from a nearby college by collectively shocking them when they erred on the task.

Just as the study was about to begin, the participants overhead the assistant tell the experimenter one of three phrases–Neutral: “The subjects from the other school are here.” Humanized: “The subjects from the other school are here; they seem ‘nice.’” Dehumanized: “The subjects from the other school are here, they seem like ‘animals.’” Mind you, they never saw those other students, or heard anything directly from them, it is only this label that they had to go on in imaging what they were like.

On trial one, the manipulation failed to have a differential effect on their aggression, and had the researchers ended the study there, we would conclude that dehumanizing labels have no behavioral impact, but as the study wore on, it had a major impact. The boys, who imagined their victims as “animals,” progressively elevated their shock levels over each trial after the first, significantly more than the neutral control. Humanizing labels helped to reduce the aggression significantly below the level of the neutral control.

When the participants were interviewed subsequently about why they behaved as they did, what the researchers found was that the experimental condition enabled them to become morally disengaged, to activate a set of psychological mechanisms that minimized the evil of their deeds, while justifying it in a variety of ways. So a one-word label can create a stereotype of the victim, of the enemy, that also lowers the height of that line between good and evil and enables more good people to cross over and become perpetrators.

* * *

Work cited:  Bandura, A., Underwood, B., & Fromson, M. E. (1975). Disinhibition of aggression through diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 253-269 (pdf here).

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, Education, Emotions, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 11, 2010

From EurekaAlert:

“Just as our species could be considered the most violent, since we are capable of serial killings, genocide and other atrocities, we are also the most empathetic species, which would seem to be the other side of the coin”, Luis Moya Albiol, lead author of the study and a researcher at the UV, tells SINC.

This study, published in the most recent issue of the Revista de Neurología, concludes that the prefrontal and temporal cortex, the amygdala and other features of the limbic system (such as insular and cingular cortexcortex) play “a fundamental role in all situations in which empathy appears”.

Moya Albiol says these parts of the brain overlap “in a surprising way” with those that regulate aggression and violence. As a result, the scientific team argues that the cerebral circuits – for both empathy and violence – could be “partially similar”.

“We all know that encouraging empathy has an inhibiting effect on violence, but this may not only be a social question but also a biological one – stimulation of these neuronal circuits in one direction reduces their activity in the other”, the researcher adds.

This means it is difficult for a “more empathetic” brain to behave in a violent way, at least on a regular basis. “Educating people to be empathetic could be an education for peace, bringing about a reduction in conflict and belligerent acts”, the researcher concludes.

Techniques for measuring the human brain “in vivo”, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, are making it possible to find out more about the structures of the brain that regulate behaviour and psychological processes such as empathy.

* * *

These findings were published in the latest issue of Revista de Neurología.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,”The Case for Obedience,” and “March Madness.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Emotions | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Steven Pinker Speaks at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2009

From HLS in Focus (describing the new student group working with the Project on Law and Mind Sciences (PLMS) at Harvard Law School and the fascinating talk that Stephen Pinker recently gave there).

* * *

“SALMS” is a recently formed group whose acronym stands for: Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences. They are interested keeping the law school community informed about research in the mind sciences that has profound implications for law and policy making. The group is currently in the process of creating a journal that touches on the same topic. If they are successful, it will be the first journal of its kind in the country.

The event that I attended was a lecture by Harvard College Professor, Steven Pinker. The title of the talk was: “A History of Violence: How We Became Less Violent” Professor Pinker explained that research indicates that although public perception is that we live in a dangerous and violent society, the facts back up a different theory. Society is becoming less violent. This statement is made based on data that span hundreds of years. Over this period of time, there have been less murders and overall violent crimes, fewer deaths from all kinds of war and much less capital punishment for non-violent crimes.

Professor Pinker also offered some reasons for why people might think that we live in a more violent period than ever before. The first is the availability heuristic. We think that society is more violent now because when asked, more recent examples are easier to remember and news of violent crimes spreads faster and farther than ever before. The second is a tendency to think that society is in a state of moral decay. We idealize the past and think that the present represents a departure from morals and values. The third is the fear that saying that violence is declining will make us too complacent rather than proactive about our own safety.

The evidence presented suggests that our inclinations toward violence have not changed over time but that societal constructions keep us from killing each other. For example, most of civilized society no longer approves of killing for revenge or honor. People still feel like they want to kill for these reasons but there is less incentive to go through with it and the consequences and probability of getting caught are just too high. We also have ample opportunity to live vicariously through the violence we get from the television, movies and videogames. The final reason for the decline in violence may be that people have become more valuable to us alive than dead. This is especially true on the national scale where countries depend on each other for different trade commodities.

Sitting in on this discussion made me realize that I was mistaken before when I thought that my undergraduate major in psychology would be irrelevant. Understanding the mind sciences can be a great help when it comes to understanding people’s behavior, the incentives they respond to and how we can shape law and policy in a way that helps enable the best outcomes. I really hope this group gets their journal off the ground. I can’t wait to attend their next event.

* * *

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Steven Pinker at Harvard Law School,” “Law Students Flock to Situationism,” The Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences,” “Pinker on the Situation of Morality,” Another Century of Genocide?,” “Steven Pinker’s Ted Talks on ‘The Stuff of Thought’,” “The Situation of Violence,” and “Time Changes Mind.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Conflict, Events, History, Life | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2009

From BBC’s Horizon:

What makes ordinary people commit extreme acts of violence?

In a thought-provoking and disturbing journey, Michael Portillo investigates one of the darker sides of human nature. He discovers what it is like to inflict pain and is driven to the edge of violence himself in an extreme sleep deprivation study.

He meets men for whom violence has become an addiction and ultimately discovers that each of us could be inherently more violent than we think, and watches a replication of one of the most controversial studies in history, the Milgram study. Will study participants be willing to administer a seemingly lethal electric shock to someone they think is an innocent bystander?

* * *

* * *

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts about the situation of violence, see “The Situation of Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” “Looking for the Evil Actor,”

To review some previous posts discussing the Milgram obedience experiment, see “Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” and Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Conflict, Ideology, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Jim Sidanius, “Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence and ‘The Law’”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 3, 2009

plms-logo2

Jim Sidanius is a Professor in the departments of Psychology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  His primary research interests include the political psychology of gender, group conflict, institutional discrimination and the evolutionary psychology of intergroup prejudice.

At the second annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place im March of 2008, Professor Sidanius’s fascinating presentation was titled ““Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence and ‘The Law.’” Here’s the abstract:

While instances of inter-communal violence and genocide are obvious and immensely tragic, what is not as readily appreciated is the widespread extent and ferocity of the intergroup violence that is channeled through legal and criminal justice systems.  Given the fact that the legal and criminal justice systems are disproportionately controlled by members of dominant rather than subordinate social groups, social dominance theory argues that a substantial portion of the output of the criminal justice system can be seen as a form of intergroup violence, the function of which is to maintain the structural integrity of group-based social hierarchy.

His talk was videotaped (though with poor lighting), and you can watch it on the three (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

For more information about the March 2008 PLMS conference, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Ideology, Life, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Selective Morality of Video Games

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2009

rapelawModern day video games regularly feature violence and murder, sometimes with graphic details, such as blood or dismemberment.  Gamers are often rewarded for the most number of kills.

While there has been some controversy about those games, talk of banning them has gone nowhere.  For the most part, in fact, people seem to be okay with them.

So if killing people in video games is socially-acceptable, why would raping someone not be okay?  This is a question asked by IGN in a piece we excerpt below.

* * *

A month before Six Days in Fallujah, an obscure Japanese game briefly caught a gust of media controversy when Amazon refused to sell RapeLay. In contrast to Six Days in Fallujah, RapeLay is a hentai game that offers players a platform to literally molest and rape women in public places. The visuals are hand drawn anime and belie the crude fantasy at the heart of the game. You control a pair of disembodied hands with your mouse and choose which parts of a woman you should grope. After the train arrives, you stalk the woman into a park and rape her. There are three different women that must be raped, the last of which is a ten year-old girl.

The game sounds immediately more repulsive than Six Days in Fallujah, or most any other shooter you might imagine. Is killing dozens of anonymous combatants really any less offensive than the idea of rape? Killing and rape are both reprehensible acts in real life, but killing is so much more acceptable as a gameplay mechanic rather than a literal simulation. In Japan, rape games are not the execrable anomaly that they are in the west. They may not be popular or part of mainstream culture, but neither are they fodder for pot boiling controversy.A big part of this is the fear that many have about how audiences relate to videogames. Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker called for a total ban of RapeLay in America, labeling it a “rape simulator.” For many, videogames are nothing but simulators. They are literal replications, and, as such, should be cause for the same kind of alarm the real life equivalents would inspire.

It’s this same thinking that makes Six Days in Fallujah seem abhorrent to some. If games are simulators, then a game about the Iraq Occupation that takes so many liberties with truth is indeed a vulgarization. Likewise, if RapeLay is a simulator for rape, its focus on fetishistic detail, lack of consequence and absence of victim empathy are unforgivable omissions. If it was created to engender discomfort, to enter into all those lurking areas of apprehension and fear of what we might be capable of, it becomes something else entirely.

* * *

For the rest of the piece, click here. For other Situationist posts on the subject of virtual worlds and situationism, see “Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram,” Virtual Bias,” “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games,” Encourage Your Daughters To Play Violent Video Games?,” “The Situation of First-Person Shooters,” “Suing the Suer: Video Game Company Sues Jack Thompson,” andThe Intersection between Tort Law and Social Psychology in Video Games.”

Posted in Entertainment, Life | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 857 other followers

%d bloggers like this: