Using violence as the ultimate indicator of antisocial and dominating behavior, this article I wrote recently will give you a perspective - although we are straying a bit form your original question!
The question of whether or not violence in humans is innate or learned has been the matter of much debate. For the purposes of this paper, I shall use the terms “violence” and “aggression” interchangeably since aggression is often precursor behavior to actual violence.
In the realm of psychology, the “nature versus nurture debate has gone on in various guises for centuries. Certain groups of people have traditionally viewed as superior – for example ChristXXXXX XXXXXs - and it was believed that this came about as a result of divine ordinance. Of course with the passing of centuries, this concept of natural superiority has been totally discredited. Nevertheless, theories of innate moral superiority (based on an incomplete understanding of Darwinism persisted for some considerable time, and it would not be unreasonable to allow that if innate moral superiority exists, then so does innate moral inferiority. From there, it is a small step to propose a hereditary component to those two opposites.
Attempts to link criminal behaviour (and tendency to violence) to identifiable heritable characterisitics continued from the work of Lombroso in the 19th Century through to around 1911, when the work of Goring and Parmalee led to its abandonment.
There has remained an interest in demonstrating a link between heritability and violent behaviour or tendency to violence. It is generally accepted by most theorists that while genetic links and heredity play a part in human behaviour, they are in noy way determinant. Fishbein asserts that “There is increasing interest in the role played by biological factors in violent behavior; however, most researchers believe it is the interaction of biological, developmental, and environmental factors that is important (Fishbein, 1990)” While extensive genetic studies involving twins and adopted children have been carried out. Interestingly, some of them have shown that in identical twins, tenedencies towards particular patterns of behavior are greater than in individuals in the general population, none of them have produced any evidence to suggest that violence is innate. No ‘gene’ for violence has been identified.
Miczec et al. assert that “On the first challenge, quantitative genetic studies have not isolated any simple genetic syndrome, either Mendelian or chromosomal, that is invariably associated with violence or, more broadly, with antisocial behavior.”(Miczec, 1994)
If there is no sound evidence of a significant genetic component in the tendency towards violence, it cannot reasonably be postulated that violence is innate, and that human society is biologically doomed endless centuries of strife and warfare.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has adopted the position that “We conclude that biology does not condemn humanity to war, and that humanity can be freed from the bondage of biological pessimism and empowered with confidence to undertake the transformative tasks needed in this International Year of Peace and in the years to come. Although these tasks are mainly institutional and collective, they also rest upon the consciousness of individual participants for whom pessimism and optimism are crucial factors. Just as 'wars begin in the minds of men', peace also begins in our minds. The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us.”
This position was adopted as the result of deliberations of twenty of the world’s best regarded academics in the fields of psychology, behavioural science and anthropology.
Further reflection on the visible and quanitifiable causes of violence and aggression indicate that that heredity and genetics do not play a major part in violence and aggression, and that therefore, they are not innate.
Bandura’s famous Bobo Doll experiment in 1961 demonstrated that aggressive behavior is quickly learned and imitated.
According to Bandura “Much current research on social learning is focused on the shaping of new behavior through rewarding and punishing consequences. Unless responses are emitted, however, they cannot be influenced. The results of this study provide strong evidence that observation of cues produced by the behavior of others is one effective means of eliciting certain forms of responses for which the original probability is very low or zero. Indeed, social imitation may hasten or short-cut the acquisition of new behaviors without the necessity of reinforcing successive approximations as suggested by Skinner (1953). (Bandura, 1961) While his methodology has been criticised, it is widely accepted as valid. He was able to demonstrate that imitation is a significant factor in eliciting and aggressive response.
The clearest and most measureable indicators of violent behavior are found in the study of crime and criminal behavior.
Much work has been done in examining violent crime rates and relating them to socio- environmental factors, and in most cases, good correlation between social class, housing, poverty, education, family circumstances and parenting and criminal behavior have been clearly demonstrated.
Mulvihill et al concluded that ““Our statistics show that a young man is particularly liable to become delinquent if he lives in wretched housing near the center of a large metropolitan area, without a father in the house, with low income, unstable employment, little education, and in a subculture that has a grievance against society and the police.” Similarly, Langevill et al assert that ““Studies of violent criminals and violent sex offenders have found these men are more likely than other adults to have experienced poor parental childrearing, poor supervision, physical abuse, neglect, and separations from their parents” (Langevill 1995) The overwhelming weight of evidence is in favour of the proposition that violence and violent behavior are learned responses strongly mediated by social, economic and environmental factors.
In a personal communication to the author from a practising psychotherapist, he says that “ After several years of clinical practice with aggressive offenders, there remains no doubt in my mind that aggressive or violent behavior is most commonly the result of frustration, which in itself results from the social, environmental, and economic circumstances of the offender. Society’s response to violence has to be multifactorial if it is going to have any chance of being effective. Prevention – in the form of improving education, housing, literacy and job prospects has the greatest part to play.” (Munro, 2009)
Bandura A, Ross D, Ross S, “Transmission Of Aggression Through Imitation Of Aggressive Models” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582.
Declaration of Seville subsequently adopted by UNESCO at the twenty-fifth session of the General Conference on 16 November 1989)
Fishbein, D.H. 1990 Biological perspectives in criminology. Criminology 28(1):27-72. Langevin, R. 1983 Sexual Strands: Understanding and Treating Sexual Anomalies in Men. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Miczek K, Mirsky A Carey G, Debold J and Raine A Understanding and Preventing Violence, Volume 2: Biobehavioral Influences” (1994)
Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (CBASSE) p2
Mulvihill J, Tumin M, Curtis L “A Staff Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence “ Munro, N, Partner, Advanced Therapy Partnership, Bristol, UK. Personal Communication.
Edited by NormanM on 4/2/2010 at 12:15 PM EST