Can violence be fought with violence?

Can violence be fought with violence?

The world is full of goodness and evil: it has been, it is and always will be. (Philip Zimbardo, in the Lucifer effect)

We tend to think that the seed of violence is outside of us and we are exempt from it. However, a first approach to this phenomenon would be worth recognizing our side of evil, we have a Dr Jekyll and a Mr Hyde.

Making the unconscious conscious is not easy, because bravery is required: "the judge himself for his house begins." An emotional abduction (Goleman, 2012) can unleash our violence: a lack of self-control, an unexpected event, the protection of a loved one, the defense against an out-of-control animal or even an attack of celotypy, can trigger our most abject thoughts .


  • 1 Understand violence
  • 2 The path of aggression and violence
  • 3 A vision of the brain through Neurosciences
  • 4 The role of Social Learning theory
  • 5 The paradox of fighting violence with violence
  • 6 Aggression and empathy

Understand violence

The violence as a multifactorial phenomenon It has many nuances and depending on the angle of observation, a series of faces are manifested as in a rubik cube where, when moving only one, the others take another form. Mutan, they become more complex, by observing a part we stop observing the whole. And, in this quantum view all sides count, including the inside of the cube, you could call them: structures, processes and products. The efforts of the social sciences and multidisciplinary work strategies are united today to better understand the facts related to violence. This text is not an exhaustive vision, it only presents some angles of this complex reality (Barrera, 2014).

The efforts of the social sciences and multidisciplinary work strategies are united today to better understand the facts related to violence.

The neurosciences Today they analyze violence with a multidisciplinary approach. Social interaction influences the brain and the brain influences social interaction. And, it uses techniques such as: electroencephalogram, functional magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic electroencephalography, and HPLC (Liquid chromatographs of various types). Which allows seeing reality differently and consequently interpreting it differently.

The path of aggression and violence

The human being is, apparently, the most aggressive and cruel species that has populated the Earth: there is no other animal that kills members of its own species as systematically as man does (Sangrador, 1982).

Aggression is any form of behavior that seeks to harm or hurt someone, oneself or an object (Franzoi, 2003).

It associates a aggressive behavior when several requirements are met:

• That it is a behavior whose objective is to harm someone.
• That the individual to whom harm is attempted wishes to avoid harm.
• That it is a socially defined behavior as aggressive.

There is a long history in the Social psychology -and also in general psychology- that distinguishes between two "types" of aggression: Instrumental and hostile (Geen, 1990).

Instrumental aggression

Instrumental aggression is the intentional use of harmful behavior to achieve some other goal (assault a person to keep their money, take the cake from the school partner). As a general rule, aggressive acts carried out with the objective of obtaining material, psychological or social benefits all fit the instrumental definition.

Hostile aggression

Hostile aggression is triggered by anger and the goal of intentionally harmful behavior, is simply to cause harm or death to the victim (Franzoi, 2003).

A vision of the brain through Neurosciences

"The scientific careers, no longer focus on a single discipline. The enormous volume of information, the result of the accelerated scientific and technological progress of the last decades, has made the disciplines can not move forward if they do not cooperate with each other. Science it is increasingly integrating more knowledge and is more predictive. There is an unavoidable need to investigate from a multidisciplinary approach " (The challenge of researching as a team, 2013).

Today we know that the brains of aggressive people have abnormal electric shocks in very specific areas and high levels of testosterone (Nicolini, cited in Brice, 2000). Violent adolescents react with fear and lose their ability to reason and self-control, which results in a conflict between the cerebral tonsil and the prefrontal cortex (Castro-Pera, 2007).

A study of aggressive styles used by teenagers in Finland found that verbal aggression (for example, shouting, insulting, saying nicknames) is the most used by boys and girls. Children display more physical aggression (hit, kick, push), while girls use more indirect forms of aggression (gossip, write cruel notes about each other, tell bad or false stories) (Björkqvist, 1992).

The neurologist Jonathan H. Pincus (2013) has found that three basic components are presented in serial killers: abuse, brain damage and mental illness. There may be a tumor, an accident or shock trauma, or a frontal lobe dysfunction and the person cannot reason and cannot control their impulses. The abuse can be a child with abuse and severe, where they may have witnessed crimes or atrocious scenes, abandonment may also be present. Brain injuries and mental illnesses are gunpowder and childhood abuse ignites the wick of serial killers. Psychiatrist Michel Stone has reached the same conclusions as Pincus.

Then, then, the brain structure, which depends mostly on genetics, is not always decisive for an individual to be violent, since the environment can also modify its structure, in brain plasticity, in good and in bad.

The role of Social Learning theory

Social learning theory has a different approach to instinctive postures (frustration-aggression) with respect to aggression. Reject the idea that aggressive behavior is innate. And, try to specify how people learn aggressive behavior, and what social conditions produce and maintain aggressiveness.

This theory states that social behavior is learned primarily by observing and imitating the actions of others, and secondly, by being directly rewarded and punished for our own actions (Franzoi, 2003). Bandura points out that people learn when to attack, how to attack and against whom to attack (Bandura, 1979; Bandura and Walters, 1963).

Social learning theorists have suggested that aggressive behaviors are learned through reinforcement and imitation of aggressive models (Bandura, 1973). People may receive reinforcements or rewards for their aggressive behavior in different ways: directly or indirectly.

Social or vicarious learning refers to the acquisition of new behaviors through observation and imitation. Therefore, new behaviors are learned by following the models seen in other people (at home, at school, in the media, on the network) with which the learner identifies, without the need for practice. This way they could learn by observing and imitating behaviors of violent people who serve as a model, but they could also be learned through replacement trauma or vicarious trauma.

The paradox of fighting violence with violence

Within the psychology We can identify two opposite concepts, one called "compassion fatigue" and its opposite "substitution trauma." Both associated with chronic stress and its involvement with ceasing to feel empathy for others or feel a solidarity empathy.

Compassion fatigue is considered a burnout stress where the caregiver fails empathy for the patient's pain, becomes depersonalized, feels unmotivated, dissatisfied and reflects poor performance in their work.

So, the caretaker stop feeling empathy for someone who has deep pain, this being understood as physical, psychological, social and spiritual suffering, which would need in the same proportion to understand the therapist or caregiver.

The neurobiological mechanisms involved in the empathic process suggest that is triggered by imitation mechanisms that make appear in who observes similar emotions.

Many health professionals and even anyone, after hearing the pain and suffering of others, not only experience the desire to help and solidarity with people who have been victims of a traumatic event (theft, loss of a loved one, war , sexual abuse, rape, aggression, bullying, etc.) on many occasions ends up feeling the same emotional symptoms or similar symptoms experienced by victims.

It can sometimes be observed in psychological support groups, where professionals end up experiencing at the empathic level the same traumatic sensations of patients, when they understand their emotional frame of reference.

Substitution Trauma

This is associated with the term "replacement trauma." vicarious trauma), a kind of solidarity trauma, which according to Dr. Joseph Boscarino, professor and researcher at the School of Medicine at Temple University in Florida, in work settings or environments tends to merge with burnout. On the other hand, Jorge Álvarez Martínez, head of the Program of Intervention in Crisis of Victims of Natural Disasters and Organizational Partner of the Faculty of Psychology of the UNAM, points out that this designation comes from the behavioral term “vicarious learning”. In simple words, it means that some indirect victims have the same symptomatology when they observe what happens to other people (Guerrero, 2011).

Aggression and empathy

It has also been observed that if a person presents structurally damage to the right somatosensory cortex, there is a deficiency in self-awareness, as well as empathy, that is, awareness of the emotions of others. On the other hand, empathy also depends on another structure of the right hemisphere, the insula or insular cortex, a node of the brain circuits that detects body state and tells us how we feel, so it decisively determines how we feel and understand the emotions of others (Goleman, 2012).

In an act of aggression or violence, if we deal empathically with what victims of aggression feel or think, indirectly or vicariously, our form of interaction can change, and even more so if we think that such acts could be experienced by our most vulnerable loved ones such as our children or young brothers, it would make us more aware not only of our own degree of evil, but also of the vicarious damage to others.

Currently, through a pilot investigation that we have carried out, in the area of ​​social psychology at the Autonomous Metropolitan University, we show violent images of commercial television in Mexico to preparatory students and make them reflect on the consequences suffered by victims of aggression as well as the different types of aggression that are shown, making many of these scenes appear in their original production, such as "happy violence."

The result has been that by means of a scale where we measure the intention of committing violent acts (psychological violence, physical violence, sexual violence, economic violence and heritage violence), the intentionality rates of low violence when we put them in the place of the victim, by means of cognitive social learning occupying the place of the one who receives the aggression (trauma by substitution) and the results indicate that these reflection groups can lower the intentionality of the practice of violence in young people. Now, the next step is to look for institutions that are interested in carrying out these types of projects on a massive level.

Therefore, violence can be combated with violence through reflection groups aimed at raising awareness of the effects of happy violence on others, through vicarious learning by substitution.

The importance of conducting this type of discussion and awareness forums with adolescents is that the “good” (having better study habits) or bad (drug use or violent behavior) learning that they use more in this period , they will stay for their adult life, because they experience a neuronal pruning at the cerebral level, and only the synapses that are strengthened will be maintained later (Barrera, 2012).

Final reflection

This information should help us develop new strategies for psychosocial and psychotherapeutic intervention.

Genetics determines the configuration of the nervous system and the brain, but the real factor responsible for the neural network and its connections is the environment.

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