A Predisposition to Violence?
There has long been debate regarding the root of violence in human beings, specifically whether an individual can be biologically predisposed to be violent. If a person were biologically predisposed to be violent that would mean that he or she had violent genes or violence mixed throughout his or her genes through DNA. Those who support this claim see humans as naturally violent, while those in opposition believe humans come into violence because of experiences. The paragraphs below provide information refuting the position that humans are biologically predisposed to be violent or born violent. Theories of violence along with psychological principles that predict dangerousness are also discussed.
Where Does Violence Come From?
As recently mentioned, some people believe humans are born violent or naturally violent. It is thought that a person’s behavior is largely shaped by their genes (Montagu, 2011). Those in agreement with this theory believe that humans have natural violent tendencies and are unable to control them (Montagu, 2011). They believe humans cannot live without violence (Montagu, 2011). This theory, however, has not been proven. “Human violence could not be a direct result of hard-wired instincts because human behavior is not determined by instincts” (Montagu, 2011, p. 34). For instance, Sarnoff Mednick, Patricia Brennan, and Elizabeth Kandel (1988) conducted a study on predisposition to violence and through two methods of analysis it was found that a genetic predisposition to violence was not supported. Other studies, however, have found a link between people who “commit significant acts of violence and those who were treated violently themselves” (Montagu, 2011, p. 34). This correlation shows the role environment plays in developing violent tendencies.
Those is opposition of the theory that humans are biologically predisposed to be violent believe that violence is a learned trait rather than an instinct (Mednick et al., 1988). Humans’ violent tendencies come from one’s environment or experiences and from there violence is learned (Montagu, 2011). For instance, Kohn (1988) found that evidence suggests humans do have a choice when it comes to aggression, rather than aggression being inevitable. Violence may also stem from an innate need to be loved when this need is not met (Montagu, 2011). Humans are born with the need for love (Montagu, 2011). When this need is not forthcoming, it causes damage to the person, which then results in destructive violence (Montagu, 2011).
Scholars from around the world and relevant sciences came together to form a Statement of Violence, which is called The Seville Statement (The Seville, Statement, 1986). One of the propositions within that states, “it is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature” (The Seville Statement, 1986, p. 1). While there are rare pathologies that can create individuals more prone to violence, such as those with mental illness, genes do not produce people who are predisposed to violence (The Seville Statement, 1986). Another proposition states, “it is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a ‘violent brain’” (The Seville Statement, 1986, p. 3). The behavior of individuals is shaped by how a person is conditioned and socialized (The Seville Statement, 1986).
Theories of Violence
The biological theory of violence is one that has mixed answers when it comes to the root of violence. It has been found that abnormalities in structure and function can in some cases result in violence. When it comes to violence being genetic or inherited, the information is mixed. One researcher, Bouchard, suggests that there is no known genetic basis for violence. On the other hand, Guan Guo and his colleagues report that the “MAOA gene, the dopamine Transporter1 gene, and the dopamine D2 receptor gene in the presence of environmental stress may link adolescent delinquency to molecular genetic variants” (The Violent Person, 2015, p. 17). While research has been done and theories have been made, the biological theory has not made any conclusions, as more research on the subject needs to be done (The Violent Person, 2015).
The sociological theory is one that refutes the theory that humans can be biologically predisposed to be violent (The Violent Person, 2015). This theory believes violence stems from social environmental factors such as poverty, discrimination, substance abuse, the media, and domestic violence (The Violent Person, 2015). For instance, an individual who abuses alcohol may become violent when intoxicated or the father of a family who cannot make enough money to pay the bills may become violent from the stress he endures.
Psychological Principles Predicting Dangerousness
A study done on the risk cues that can help predict dangerousness found thirteen main risk cues. Those include: “past assaults, medication compliance, history of substance abuse, presence of psychosis, assault ideation, prior psychiatric admissions, paranoid delusions, mental illness, uncooperativeness, poor impulse control, use of a weapon, hostility, and family problems” (Odeh, Zeiss, & Huss, 2006, p. 153). These risk cues are not 100% valid, so while in many cases they can be used to predict violence, caution must be used. Throughout this study, it was found that clinical predictions were not always related to the actual violence outcome. The study utilized three types of predictions, those included severity, dichotomous, and probability. In all three categories, it was found that actual violence could not be predicted (Odeh et al., 2006).
Using psychological principles to predict dangerousness has low validity (Philips, 2012). “No one can predict future dangerousness precisely and with absolute certainty” (Philips, 2012, p. 12). The reason accessing future dangerousness is important is that many factors rely on it (Philips, 2012). For instance, when a psychiatrist has to decide to send a patient to a mental hospital or when a social worker has to decide if a mother should have her rights terminated or get her kids back, these professionals are trying to predict dangerousness.
Ramifications can occur when professionals use psychological principles to predict dangerousness. Taking an example from above, if the social worker incorrectly determines that the mother is now fit to take back her children, negative consequences could occur. Weeks later, her youngest could end up in critical care as a result of the mother’s violence. On the other hand, the social worker could incorrectly suggest that the mother was not fit to take back her children based on the prediction that she could be violent in her future. A possible ramification of that scenario would be the mother spiraling downward after being denied her kids even though she was fit to get them back.
For many years, professionals and citizens alike have debated about the cause of violence and one’s biological predisposition to be violent. One side of the debate believes in violent genes and violence within a person’s DNA, while the other side believes violence can be attributed to many different factors, with being born violent not one of them. Some theories of violence support the claim of violent genes, while others blame the environment. When it comes to violence, it has been found that predicting it can be difficult. Professionals such as clinical workers, psychiatrists, and social workers are unable to accurately predict violence, but risk cues and other psychological principles can be helpful.
Kohn, A. (1988). Are Humans Innately Aggressive? Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/humans-innately-aggressive/
Mednick, S. A., Brennan, P., & Kandel, E. (1988). Predisposition of violence. Aggressive Behavior, 14(1), 25-33. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1988)14:1<25::AID-AB2480140105>3.0.CO;2-9
Montagu, A. (2011). Are Human Beings Violent by Nature? Retrieved from http://peacetheology.net/2011/06/04/are-human-beings-violent-by-nature/
Odeh, M. S., Zeiss, R. A., & Huss, M. T. (2006). Cues They Use: Clinicians' Endorsement of Risk Cues in Predictions of Dangerousness. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 24(2), 147-156. doi:10.1002/bsl.672
Philips, R. T. M. (2012). Predicting the Risk of Future Dangerousness. Retrieved from http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org/2012/06/hlaw1-1206.html
The Seville Statement. (1986). UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org
The Violent Person. (2015). American Mental Health Association. Retrieved from