Social Psychology & Violence

Photo by Rux Centea on Unsplash

Definition of Violence

Violence is a destructive force whether physical or emotional. According to the free Merriam Webster dictionary “violence is an exertion of force to inflict pain, injury or abuse another person.” Thus control of behavior through aggression, force, and intimidation that cause suffering in others is violence.

Violence as entertainment:

There are many different forms of violence including domestic violence, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, and physical violence. Violence is prevalent in almost every society. Violence is so deeply rooted in human psychology that it is used as a form of entertainment in many cultures and societies. Watching Violence is a popular form of entertainment. A crowd of onlookers enjoys street fights just as Romans use to enjoy Gladiator. Wrestling is a popular spectator sport not only in the United States but in many countries in the Middle East. (Richard B.Felson, P-103)

Mass Media effect of violence on behavior;

Movies such as “Fight Club” provide insight into the psychology of violence and aggressive human behavior, where street fights are a form of entertainment, bonding experience, and development of mass psychology.

IF Violence is destructive only when it causes harm to other human being or inflict pain.

Then the question arises does exposure to violence has an effect on the incidence of violence or an increase in violent crimes. The process of imitating violence is emphasized by social learning theory a well-established approach in social psychology (Bandura, 1983). Other studies include non-violent behavior which does not involve any intent to do harm. Crimes committed for different motive has different goals. Such as one who intends to steal money will not be focusing on hurting others. His intent would be to take material possession with force. We cannot argue that violence is passive and has no adverse effects in disrupting social and economic peace. Even though the goal of those who commit a crime such as stealing is not to inflict physical harm they do install fear and disrupt peace in society. Verbal abuse is not to intentionally harm or inflict harm physically but is associated with psychological stress, intended to intimidate another person.

Is Media violence Benign?

The question is, does witnessing violence have adverse effects on human psychology? According to a sociological perspective, it is worth exploring if there is any connection between a spectator of violence and aggressive behavior displayed by an individual in society. What are the effects of media violence on society?

“Longitudinal survey research demonstrates that there is a correlation between the amount of exposure to television violence and frequency of aggressive behavior generally varies between 0.10 to 0.20 (Freedman 109)” Individuals who witness violence on TV are more aggressive than those who do not witness violence through media or are exposed to violence in their homeland. Although this survey does not prove a strong correlation between violence in media and its effects on society, there is another approach worth exploring, the cognitive priming approach. “Aggressive ideas in violent films can activate other aggressive thoughts in viewers through association in memory pathway” Berkowitz 1984 (Felson 112).

When one's thought is activated, other thoughts are also activated. Immediately after watching a violent film, a viewer is primed to respond aggressively because a network of memories involving aggression is activated. Evidence indicates that media violence does elicit thoughts and emotional responses related to aggression(Bushman and Geen).

Social Psychology perspective on violence: Association & Generalization

According to a sociological perspective and psychological analysis, not all individuals are Inclined towards violence, but studies and surveys prove that there is a correlation between violence and media. Those who have an innate inclination towards violence inflict pain on others.

Violence can also be a learned behavior that responds to aggression activated through media.

Media can act as a stimulus to produce aggressive behavior since, according to Bushman and Geen, it is an emotional response retrieved by a network of memories. Consider an article by Kenneth Jost, “Understanding Islam” on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

“Many Americans have associated Islam with terrorism or fundamentalist groups that preach violence against the West and regard “moderate” Muslims as heretics. There are more than 1 billion adherents; Islam is the second-largest religion after Christianity. Mainstream Muslims and religious scholars say Islam is wrongly blamed for violence and intolerance of few.”(November 3rd, 2006, volume 16)

The events of September 11, 2001 trigger an emotional response in many Americans which lead them to the generalization and association of ‘terrorism with Islam” due to a network of memories associated with the events of September 11, 2001. There is a correlation between witnessing violence and aggressive verbal, social, and psychological response, even though violence is a global issue rooted in human psychology regardless of cultural, ethnic, and religious affiliation.

Global Implications of Violence

According to Mass Media effect on violent behavior

“Watching Violence is a popular form of entertainment. A crowd of onlookers enjoys street fights just as Romans use to enjoy Gladiator. Wrestling is a popular spectator sport not only in the United States but in many countries in the Middle East. People enjoy combat between animals f.eg a Cockfight in Indonesia, a bullfight in Spain, and a dogfight in a rural area of this country. Violence is depicted in folklore, fairy tales, and other literature. Local news show provides extensive coverage in media to increase the rating.” (Richard B. Felson page 103)

We are bombarded with images of violence; either through Hollywood movies, the internet, or global events. Every culture and society suffers through violence and the effect of violence cannot be neglected or ignored when violence becomes a global issue or humanitarian crisis.

More than two years after the government and rebel fighters signed a peace agreement in Sudan, violence is still rampant in Darfur. At least 2.4 million people have been displaced and up to 400,000 have died since 2003. And observers say the situation is getting worse. Rebel groups have splintered into more than a dozen warring factions, bandits are attacking relief workers, and drought threatens to make next year among the deadliest in Darfur’s history. Despite pressure from religious and human-rights groups, the international community seems unable — or unwilling — to find a lasting solution (Foerstal)

Remains of 25 villagers were found recently in a mass grave in Darfur. An estimated 200,000–400,000 civilians and soldiers have been killed in the region since 2003 in what many have called genocide (September 2008, volume2, issue 9)

Violence is not limited to a particular culture or race.

This proves that violence is not limited to certain cultures, races, ethnicities, or societies. It is a universal behavior. It transcends boundaries and exists globally in various societies regardless of cultural background.

Social Relevance of Violence:

Violence is not benign and it is passive in that it has no adverse effect on society as well as on human psychology. We cannot ignore violence when it manifests in form of mass killing such as genocide. If you are interested in reading more regarding this subject reach out to me, send me an email, and inquire about the book.

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Global Instructor, Educator, Author, Transformation Life Coach; Existential Positive Psychology & Spiritual well-being Practitioner (EPP, SWB)

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Uzma Sharaf

Uzma Sharaf

Global Instructor, Educator, Author, Transformation Life Coach; Existential Positive Psychology & Spiritual well-being Practitioner (EPP, SWB)

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