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3
Perspectives on Violence

In this chapter, we look behind patterns and trends to ask what explains them and how they might be altered. One starting point emphasizes that human behavior is shaped in part by long-term developmental processes through which children learn what events to anticipate, how to respond, and what the outcome will be. Children who learn that violent behavior "works" in families, on television, in violent pornographic literature, among peers, and in the community, it is argued, may have a greater potential to behave violently as adults.

This oversimplified psychosocial explanation ignores the fact that even if two individuals could be exposed to identical sequences of experiences as they developed, their potentials for adult violent behavior would differ because their nervous systems process information, recall experiences, and react to events differently. While heredity and the prenatal environment help shape an individual's nervous system by the time of birth, that system is constantly reshaped by experiences, by injuries, by temporary external influences such as stress or psychoactive chemicals, by hormonal activity, and even by violent behavior itself.

Even taken together, developmental and neurological explanations are incomplete. The mix of experiences during development—their violence content, the rewards and punishments for violent and nonviolent behavior, for example—is not the same in every family, school, or community. Quite apart from individuals' development, different communities and groups may reward



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Page 101 3 Perspectives on Violence In this chapter, we look behind patterns and trends to ask what explains them and how they might be altered. One starting point emphasizes that human behavior is shaped in part by long-term developmental processes through which children learn what events to anticipate, how to respond, and what the outcome will be. Children who learn that violent behavior "works" in families, on television, in violent pornographic literature, among peers, and in the community, it is argued, may have a greater potential to behave violently as adults. This oversimplified psychosocial explanation ignores the fact that even if two individuals could be exposed to identical sequences of experiences as they developed, their potentials for adult violent behavior would differ because their nervous systems process information, recall experiences, and react to events differently. While heredity and the prenatal environment help shape an individual's nervous system by the time of birth, that system is constantly reshaped by experiences, by injuries, by temporary external influences such as stress or psychoactive chemicals, by hormonal activity, and even by violent behavior itself. Even taken together, developmental and neurological explanations are incomplete. The mix of experiences during development—their violence content, the rewards and punishments for violent and nonviolent behavior, for example—is not the same in every family, school, or community. Quite apart from individuals' development, different communities and groups may reward

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Page 102 or punish violence quite differently depending on its purpose, on the victim's ethnic status or sexual preference, and on his or her preexisting relationship(s) to the perpetrator(s). Places differ in terms of how frequently chance encounters offer the rewards or provocations that elicit violent behavior, how easily one can obtain lethal weapons, and how likely a passerby is to interfere in a violent encounter. To close another loop, however, neighborhoods also differ in terms of the risks they present to developing children's nervous systems in such forms as maternal drug use during pregnancy, head injuries to young children, and exposure to environmental toxins. In short, research strongly suggests that violence arises from interactions among individuals' psychosocial development, their neurological and hormonal differences, and social processes. Consequently, we have no basis for considering any of these "levels of explanation" more fundamental than the others. Because existing studies rarely consider more than one of these levels simultaneously, very little is known about the relevant interactions. Therefore, we found it most convenient to discuss possible explanations and promising preventive interventions level by level, in the order used above. First, we consider psychosocial explanations of violence, especially how early experiences and learning affect individuals' potentials for violent behavior, including sexual violence. Second, we look at violent behavior from a biological perspective, discussing underlying neuroanatomical organization; neurological activity—physiological, chemical, and hormonal; and the role of genetic transmission. Recognizing that both individual development and violent behavior occur at both levels simultaneously, we assess the prospects for reducing violence through various interventions. We then turn to the larger social context of violence. Attempts to explain ethnic and socioeconomic patterns of violence bring us to consider the influences of family and social disorganization, opportunity structure, and community culture. A discussion of gang-related violence illustrates how these influences interact. We then look at specific circumstances in which violent events occur, focusing on places in the community and how they vary in violence rates. We consider preventive interventions, growing out of work in both criminology and public health, that are suggested by a focus on places and situations. We conclude the discussion of research findings by briefly considering violence in two special places: prisons and schools.

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Page 103 Recognizing how little is known about the relevant interactions between psychosocial, biomedical, and social influences on violence, we conclude this chapter by recommending a major longitudinal study to explore them. As a near-term means of simultaneously increasing understanding and improving violence control capacity, we recommend a series of violence problem-solving initiatives—programs that exploit both the scientific and the policy potential of rigorous evaluations—in Chapters 7 and 8. Violence and the Individual Psychosocial Perspectives The research underlying psychosocial perspectives is concerned with the learning of aggressive or nonaggressive behaviors as responses to frustration or to ways of achieving desired goals, and the perceptual and cognitive processes through which individuals interpret their interactions with others and choose their responses. As we note in Chapter 1, behavior described as aggression includes several violent behaviors. There is substantial stability in the potential for aggressive behavior from infancy through adulthood. A number of longitudinal studies show that children who show "aggressive" behavior at around age 8 are more likely than others to exhibit delinquent, criminal, or violent behavior in adolescence and adulthood (Olweus, 1979; Farrington, 1989, 1991). This continuity exists despite substantial changes in environment that usually occur in the late teenage years, as children leave schools, their parents' homes, and sometimes their communities (Olweus, 1984). This behavioral continuity through environmental changes suggests strongly that individual differences associated with childhood aggressive behavior are also risk factors for adult violent behavior, although with weaker predictive power. Part of the stability and overlap in risk factors is explained by overlap between common definitions of aggression and our definition of violent behavior. For example, 5 of the 13 DSM-III-R (American Psychiatric Association, 1987) diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder are violent behaviors under our definition; other commonly used measures of aggression include fighting, and threats of violence, which also meet our standard for violence. But researchers measure aggression using a variety of criteria that do not fit our definition of violent behavior, such as interactions in preschool play groups, laboratory measures such as "hostility machine" use, vandalism,

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Page 104 cruelty to animals, and verbal abuse of other children, for example (see Brain, Volume 2). Among children who exhibit aggressive behavior in childhood, the factors that distinguish the small number who go on to commit violent acts as adolescents or adults from the larger number who do not are not well understood. Identifying the distinguishing factors and explaining the processes through which they cause violent behavior remain fundamental questions for future research. Because aggressive behavior is easier to study than violent behavior, much of what we know comes from the psychological literature on aggression as it relates to violence. Social Learning of Aggression and Violence One explanation of aggressive and violent behaviors invokes the concepts of frustration, social learning, and information processing. More than 50 years ago Dollard et al. (1939) speculated that aggression was the consequence of frustration. Modern views emphasize that aggressive or violent behaviors are learned responses to frustration (Eron, 1990), that they can also be learned as instruments for achieving goals, and that the learning is facilitated by available models of aggressive or violent behavior. In this framework, a child learns aggressive or violent behavior by observing or participating in situations in which violence occurs (e.g., instances of frustration, anger, opportunities for instrumental uses of aggression), by experiencing emotional states that are associated with violence, and by observing or experiencing sanctions (rewards and punishments) related to violent events. From early childhood, such occasions and their violent or nonviolent outcomes may be observed in the family, among peers, elsewhere in the neighborhood, or through the mass media. If such social learning inculcates aggression or violence as an appropriate response to frustration, anger, or opportunities, then the behavior may later be activated by cues such as frustration over school failure or loss of a competition, anger at another's behavior, or recognition of an opportunity to gain money by robbery, social status by fighting, or compliance with one's wishes by threats of violence. Methods of Empirical Testing Aggressive and violent behaviors in the community are usually analyzed using either cross-sectional data, comparing members of a sample at a single age or observation time, or longitudinal data,

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Page 105 following a sample of individuals over time. In either case, data are collected on factors that are hypothesized to be relevant and on sample members' behavior, as measured by their self-reports, by officially recorded events such as arrests, or by the reports of third parties such as family members, peers, or teachers. The merits of cross-sectional and longitudinal approaches, and of self-reports and official records, have been debated extensively (Weis, 1986; Farrington et al., 1986; Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1987; Blumstein et al., 1988). Because tests of many hypotheses require accurate recording of sequences of events and behaviors, longitudinal studies are usually the strongest approach. Where the hypothesized relevant factors can be manipulated (as is often the case), randomized experiments with longitudinal follow-ups are the method of choice. In any case, multiple outcome measures—based on self-reports, official records, and third-party reports—should be obtained and utilized. In the sections that follow we discuss findings from research on aggressive and violent behavior, on violent sexual behavior, and on preventive interventions. Aggressive and Violent Behaviors Antecedents    As explained in Appendix A, researchers have identified many correlates and antecedents of aggressive childhood behavior that are presumed to reflect psychosocial influences: • in infancy: pregnancy and birth complications, low birthweight, and an uninhibited, fearless temperament; • in the preschool years: fearless behavior, hyperactivity-impulsivity-attention deficit, restless behavior, and poor concentration; • in the early school years: daring and risk-taking behavior, poor ability to defer gratification, low IQ, low empathy, and abnormally frequent viewing of violence on television; • early family experiences: harsh and erratic discipline, lack of parental nurturance, physical abuse and neglect, poor supervision, and early separation of children from parents; • early school experiences: school failure and interactions involving bullying and peer rejection; and • factors associated with large low-income families, poor housing, criminal behavior by parents and siblings, and living in high-crime neighborhoods. These are often presumed also to be risk factors for violent

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Page 106 behavior. However, because the behavioral outcomes that are studied—aggression, delinquency, or crime, for example—are so broad, we cannot say with any precision how they are related to violent behavior. The nature of the relationships that have been found, however, suggest that any causal relationships to violent behavior are likely to involve complex interactions across levels of explanation. For example, as Denno (1990:10-11) explains, research prior to hers found that perinatal complications have a potentially strong link to intellectual deficits in poor environments but not in advantaged families, while measures of intellectual functioning have been empirically linked to delinquency or crime even when family socioeconomic characteristics are statistically controlled. Denno's own study (1990:78-81) links perinatal conditions to mental retardation at age 13-14 and mental retardation to the seriousness of delinquency—for females but not males. Many risk factors that emerge during the preschool and early school years—fearlessness, attention deficit, inability to defer gratification, restlessness, and especially early school failure—are among the most robust predictors of childhood aggressive behavior. However, analyses of longitudinal data indicate that while IQ measured at age 8 appears to predict aggression at age 30, this relationship disappears when it is controlled for measures of aggression at age 8. Violent events on television are one route through which social learning of aggressive behavior may occur. Some previous research reviews (e.g., Heath et al., 1989; Huesmann and Miller, in press) and a meta-analysis prepared for the panel (Comstock and Paik, 1990) conclude that frequent exposure to television violence is associated with more aggressive behavior by children and adults. However, there is debate about the underlying causal relationship. The correlations may reflect the joint effect of greater exposure to television violence and a heightened potential for violent behavior, both resulting from poor parental supervision. It may also be that children with a high potential for violent behavior select violent material to watch. There is also debate about the permanence of any direct effect, about the importance of whether the television violence is punished or rewarded, and about the behavioral effects of frustration that might be activated by compelling changes in children's television viewing patterns (see debate between Friedrich-Cofer and Huston, 1986; Freedman, 1986). Moreover, the effects of high levels of neighborhood violence may reduce the effects of viewing of television violence on children's potentials for violent behavior; we are aware of no research on this issue.

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Page 107 Violent offenders as measured by self-reports and official records of crimes are more likely than other adults to have experienced poor parental childrearing methods, poor supervision, physical abuse, neglect, and separations from their parents when they were children (Farrington, 1991). These experiences are commonly reported by violent sex offenders as well (Langevin et al., 1985). School bullying is of interest both as a childhood aggressive behavior and as a precursor of adult violent behavior. Children who are rated ''aggressive" by their peers at age 8 have significantly higher average levels of adult aggression, and the underlying causal relationship may involve peer rejection. Childhood aggressiveness has been cited as a common reason for peer rejection (Huesmann and Eron, 1986). However, conflicting findings exist (Cairns et al., 1988), and the role(s) of peer rejection in developing adult aggression is uncertain. Sorting out these relationships is important in choosing whether to try to prevent bullying, peer rejection, or both as approaches to preventing adult aggression. Some factors appear to be protective, in the sense that they reduce the chance of aggressive behavior in individuals who would otherwise be at high risk. One protective factor, a high-income family, was already suggested as reducing the risk-increasing effects of perinatal complications. Other protective factors suggested by previous research include a shy temperament, high IQ, being firstborn, having a stable family, having affectionate caregivers, having parents who regularly attend religious services, and coming from small families characterized by low discord. As with adverse risk factors, however, these relationships have been observed with respect to aggressive but not violent behavior. Preventive Interventions    We reviewed evaluations of a number of preventive interventions that seek to alter the psychosocial risk factors listed above (see Appendix A). In careful evaluations, several interventions have shown some success in reducing children's aggressive behavior, but longer-term follow-ups are needed to see if they also prevent violent behavior at later ages. Some of the most promising programs are global, using multiple social learning and behavioral interventions simultaneously to emphasize several of the following: the undesirability of aggression; nonaggressive methods of solving problems; improved social skills; and improved television viewing habits (Guerra, 1990; Tremblay et al., 1991; Pepler et al., 1991). Other promising interventions have a single focus: social skills (Jones and Offord, 1989); or improved television

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Page 108 viewing habits (Huesmann et al., 1983; Eron and Huesmann, 1984; Singer and Singer, 1981). Several communities, including Oakland, California, and San Antonio, Texas, report success with a program for reducing early-grade school failure, one of the risk factors for aggression. The program involves daily tutoring of kindergartners by specially trained high school seniors and seems ripe for a carefully controlled evaluation. Other behavioral approaches that warrant additional testing include parent training in consistent discipline (see review by Kazdin, 1985), combined parent and teacher training (Hawkins et al., 1991), preschool enrichment programs of the Head Start type (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984), and school-based programs to combat bullying and reduce peer rejection (Olweus, 1991). One preventive approach developed by the public health community was motivated in part by findings that most violent events are preceded by escalation from verbal conflict through insults and threats, and that the likelihood of escalation is increased by the presence of bystanders who do not attempt to mediate (see, e.g., Luckenbill, 1977; Steadman, 1982; Felson and Steadman, 1983). Using culturally specific role plays and other devices, the Boston Violence Prevention Curriculum was developed for use in tenth-grade health classes, to teach methods of interrupting escalation to violence. The curriculum emphasizes the undesirability of violent behavior, nonviolent responses to provocation, and mediation skills (Prothrow-Stith et al., 1987). A 10-site evaluation suggested some positive effects on knowledge and attitudes but little success in changing behavior (Spiro and DeJong, 1991). The lack of success may reflect the previously noted stability of aggressive behavior after middle childhood and the need to reinforce principles taught in school with experiences elsewhere in the community. A version of the program involving other community organizations is still being evaluated. Depending on the results of that evaluation, serious consideration should be given to developing and testing a revised version of the program, for use with children at around the third-grade level. In general, research suggests that preventive interventions are more likely to be successful if they involve parents, peers, teachers, and significant others in the community, and if the intervention is adapted to the cultural norms of the target age, ethnic, and socioeconomic category. Interventions are likely to be more effective if they begin early—perhaps as early as the preschool years—and if they are based on clear theoretical models of aggression. Evaluations should test multiple interventions simultaneously, to

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Page 109 compare their effectiveness in different populations, particularly with children of different ethnic statuses, socioeconomic statuses, and ages. Follow-up periods must be long enough to ascertain whether interventions in childhood prevent violent behavior as adults. Violent Sexual Behavior By violent sexual behavior we mean a threat or actual use of physical force that either coerces another person to submit to sexual behavior or leads to sexual excitement or release in the perpetrator. This definition includes a wide range of behaviors, and there is profound disagreement over whether the perpetrator of a violent sexual act is motivated by the power achieved through coercion, by the sexual excitement, or both. Designations of violent sexual behavior as acceptable, criminal, deviant, or the product of mental illness have varied over historical periods and across cultures. The designation has also hinged on circumstances. Where it is clear that informed consent could not have been given—acts against strangers or against children, for example—the acts are usually assumed to be criminal or deviant. For events involving intimates, the designation depends on whether both participants freely gave consent—a matter that may sometimes be ambiguous in one or both of their minds and, for some acts, may be exceedingly difficult for a third party to ascertain. In studying sexual violence, the methods used to study other types of violence are especially difficult to implement. Because we do not yet know enough to identify categories of children at high risk for violent sexual behavior, it is difficult to design efficient samples for longitudinal study or for follow-ups intended to test the effectiveness of early preventive interventions. People may distort self-reports of violent sexual behavior because of embarrassment over discussing sexual behavior generally; however, persons with violent sexual preferences, by definition, are sexually aroused by contemplating or discussing both real and imagined violent events. Reports by victims and witnesses to sexual violence are subject to distortion because of emotional trauma over the events. In arrest reports, sexual motivation is sometimes disguised in certain cases of assault, homicide, and even burglary. All these kinds of reports are subject to error when the distinction between a violent and a nonviolent sexual event hinges on the issue of consent, which entails ambiguities and uncertainties. A valuable behavioral measurement of violent sexual preference

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Page 110 is phallometric measurement of arousal to violent sexual stimuli. However, sexual preference is not equivalent to sexual acting out. Moreover, while the accuracy of phallometric testing has been estimated at 85 to 90 percent in distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual preferences, and 70 to 75 percent in distinguishing between preferences for children and adults, accuracy in distinguishing between preferences for violent and nonviolent sexual stimuli are considerably poorer (Murphy et al., 1986). Research to date on violent sex offenders points to some of the same psychosocial and biological factors discussed earlier in this chapter with respect to aggressive and violent behavior generally: poor parental supervision; unstable family relationships; being abused or neglected as a child; abnormal functioning of sex hormones; and neurophysiological abnormalities in the temporal lobe of the brain. As discussed more fully in Chapter 4, perpetrators of sexual and nonsexual violence both share a tendency to have histories of alcohol abuse. Indeed, the criminal records of known violent sex offenders often contain notations of other crimes such as assaults, thefts, breaking and entering, and alcohol-related charges. Because of the methodological problems mentioned above, the relationships of these factors and processes to sexual violence are generally less well understood than their relationships to violence generally. However, available findings are sufficient to rule out several simple causal relationships that have occasionally been suggested for violent sex offending: epilepsy, mental retardation, and some XYY or XXY chromosomal syndromes. In the paragraphs that follow we first discuss factors and processes that appear to operate differently with respect to sexual violence than to nonsexual violence, and then discuss prospects for treating violent sex offenders and preventing or mitigating incidents of sexual violence. Deviant Sexual Preferences and Sex-Role Socialization    Learning may be involved in one or both of two ways in the development of violent sexual behavior, which is usually studied using different samples and methods from those of other violent behavior. First, violent sexual preferences may be learned through experiences around the time of puberty, in which sexual arousal and release give the reward for fantasies about violent acts. Second, it may also be that, in the process of sex-role socialization, some children learn attitudes that facilitate violent sexual behavior toward women. Such attitudes include the general expectation that males are expected to behave aggressively while females behave passively and submissively (Baron and Straus, 1989; Cherry, 1983;

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Page 111 Russell, 1975; Weis and Borges, 1977), as well as beliefs that certain specific circumstances justify violent behavior against women (Burt, 1980; Check and Malamuth, 1983; and Kikuchi, 1988). The available evidence is inconclusive on the role of sexual preferences as a cause of violent sexual behavior. As one would expect, phallometric tests of men in treatment have found rapists more likely than other men to respond to stimuli depicting rape, and child molesters respond more than others to stimuli depicting children. However, treatment populations may underrepresent men who sexually assault nonstrangers. Moreover, not even all sex offenders in treatment demonstrate deviant arousal patterns (Prentky, 1990), and there are no reliable estimates of the prevalence of men who are sexually aroused by violent fantasies or stimuli but never act on them. The evidence is similarly inconclusive on the importance of sex-role socialization as a cause of sexual violence. Some surveys suggest widespread learning, by the early teenage years, of beliefs that are conducive to rape.1 These findings are disturbing; however, their causal implications for violent sexual behavior are unclear. There is no available evidence on whether such attitudes are more prevalent among men who engage in violent sexual behavior than among men who do not. The theory of sex-role socialization does not attempt to explain violent sexual behavior against children, which is not justified by any widespread social belief system. Pornography    Some suggest that pornography encourages violent sexual behavior either by facilitating development of a deviant sexual preference for violence or by helping to inculcate beliefs about male-female sex roles that are conducive to violence (Dworkin, 1979; Morgan, 1980]. Although the panel did not review the research on links between pornography and violence, a number of other scientific panels have investigated pornography and sexual violence, including the 1970 U.S. Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, the 1985 Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution in Canada, and the 1986 U.S. Attorney General's Commission on Pornography. Scientific literature reviews prepared for these groups have generally concluded that, despite theoretical causal links, demonstrated empirical links between pornography and sex crimes in general are weak or absent. Studies of individual violent sex offenders have found no link between their offenses and their use of pornography; if anything, they do not appear to use pornography as much as the average male.

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