Is The Brain To Blame? Searching For The Origins Of Violence
From the dawning of man, violence has always been one of the defining characteristics of humankind. Throughout all of history we see evidence of man's tendencies toward acting violently in response to his emotions - everything from anger, fear, to just plain enjoyment. But to where can we trace the true origin of violence, the place where it all begins? Does the root of violence stem from societal and cultural values or can we point the finger at a deeper cause, one with a neurobiological basis? Can we successfully predict the violent tendencies in individuals, and if so, how? And if there is a biological basis for violent behavior, where does that leave our society and our methods of control? These were the questions I sought to have answered.
Before we can begin to answer these questions, however, we must first recognize that not all acts of violence are the same. Certainly the child that throws his toys across the room in anger does not compare to the serial rapist who takes pleasure in attacking women. However since we are primarily interested in tracing the roots of violent behavior, it would be most helpful to look back to the time when our thoughts and actions were only beginning to be shaped, when our minds were impressionable and constantly curious - our childhood. And so we will examine the three main categories of violence observed in childhood - community and school violence, media-related violence, and violence in the home (1) - so that we may begin to paint a picture of the environment in which the violent individual is born.
It is no secret that violence in the schools and community has frighteningly been on the rise in America. In fact, from 1986 to 1996 there was a 60% increase in juvenile violence, which now accounts for 19% of all violent crime (1). From the amount of school shootings that have occurred in the past 5 years, as well as a plethora of unpublicized acts of intimidation, threat, and simple assault occurring in the classroom, it is reasonable to conclude that for many young children, school is not the safe haven that it was once believed to be. Instead, it is a place of constant fear, where the possibility of harm is an undeniable threat.
In places where violence in the community is not a threat, children are still bathed with violent images at every turn, simply at the click of a button. Now more than ever the media has been flooded with aggressive acts ranging from the punches and kicks of the newest videogame, to the gruesome murders of the last big-screen thriller. It has also been estimated that by the time a child turns 18, he or she will have viewed at least 200,000 acts of violence on television (1). Even if the child has grown up with a solid, emotional and social background, he is still vulnerable to these overwhelming displays of media violence and is often left with a greater tendency towards aggressive and antisocial behavior...