Prevention And Control Of Violence
Although history attests to the ubiquitousness of violence, it is also true that individuals have available and use a wide array of inhibitory or alternate behavioral strategies. Although aggression and violence may be ever present, they are not inevitable. The longevity of a social group, society, or nation hinges, in part, on the peaceful resolution of conflicts and other social problems. Escalating or unacceptably high rates of violence can serve as a call to action to mobilize the forces of prevention and control.
Just as there is no single cause of violence, there is no single solution. Rather, different types of violence are associated with different causal processes and warrant different responses. A reasoned approach to prevention and control hinges on sorting out these multiple influences as they impact the developing individual over time and across contexts. The control of violence requires a confluence of synchronized efforts that address innate, socialization, and situational contributions to violence, for all individuals as well as for those who display more extreme problems.
New research on the biology of violence provides a credible starting point that looks at individual development as it both influences and is influenced by the environment. If this development proceeds on a course that minimizes violent behavior, it results in a nervous system that is in tune with the demands of the outside world, is able to integrate emotional and representational data, and is not hypersensitive to perceived threat. Environmental factors that compromise this development, such as exposure to lead, head trauma, and abuse provide a viable beginning for prevention. The fact that brain development occurs at a rapid pace during the first years of life suggests that these factors must be addressed at an early age. Not only should efforts focus on prevention of trauma, but healthy developmental supports are needed. Healthy Start and Nurse—Home Visitation programs are examples of programs that can address these issues.
To the extent that violent actions are learned, a range of prevention and control responses can interrupt this learning process. First in line are strategies to reduce the perceived or actual positive consequences of violence. These may involve changing peer group and parent norms, providing nonviolent and positive means to achieve desired goals such as status and money, and training parents and other socialization agents to reward cooperative and prosocial behaviors. Under some conditions, punishment can also reduce aggression. A child who is sent to his room after hitting his brother should be less likely to hit his brother the next day. A child who is severely spanked for hitting his brother may suppress his aggression in the days to come while also learning that violence is a good way to solve problems. Prison is unfortunately one of the best schools for violence known to society. Inmates are held in isolation, under crowded conditions, socializing only with other violent or antisocial peers, with treatment for accompanying mental health or addiction problems the exception rather than the rule. Prisons also come into play far too late in the game, when brain patterns and cognitions are well formed.
Another prevention prescription would focus on reducing the myriad of opportunities to model violent acts as a result of a continuous exposure to glorified violence in television, movies, and video games, as well as "sports" activities such as extreme fighting. Observing violence can increase individual attitudes and beliefs that such behavior is acceptable. In addition to reducing such modeling opportunities, research suggests that cognitive-behavioral interventions can also shift thinking patterns toward more reflective and less automatically aggressive thoughts.
The notion that human violence is innate or inevitable precludes effective prevention and control. In contrast, if we understand violence as an optional strategy that can be increased or decreased through a variety of mechanisms, opportunities for prevention and control abound. Individuals are biologically and socially capable of peaceful coexistence—a clear and powerful antidote to violence.