Social Psychology Of Violence

Published: 2018-02-06 12:31:37
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Sewanee University of the South
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Situational, Cognitive, and Systemic Sources of Violence

After the Second World War, psychologists developed diverse viewpoints when it comes to their analysis of violence (Kelman, 1973, p. 31). In their analysis, a majority of psychologists emphasized issues to do with personality variables such as the extent to which individuals were receptive of prejudice or individuals’ tendencies to endorse their authoritarian belief systems at different points in their lives. The majority of persons exhibited violent behavior not primarily because of their personalities as individuals were made to believe in the past years. However, most people exhibited violent behavior in their surroundings due to the powerful influence of social situations persons found themselves in, at different points in their lives. For instance, individuals were bound to act aggressively in a situation whereby their lives was threatened. 

Face-to-face interaction played a very important role in enabling people to attain a better understanding of experiences of other people in their surroundings (Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 43). In fact, all other types of social interactions are derivatives of face-to-face interaction. However, the main disadvantage of face-to-face interactions is that an individual might portray a smile on their face while in real sense they loathed the people they pretended to love. Subsequently, it would only be after people would have acted in an aggressive manner against the people they disliked that one would realize that their attackers were only hiding their true feelings towards them behind their smiles. This begs the question regarding what would compel individuals into becoming violent in their relationship with other people in their surroundings.    

Power of Situation

Depending on the conditions or situations individuals were subjected to in life, people exercised acts of violence against other people in their surroundings on the pretext that their acts were not self-driven but rather propagated by the orders they attained from authorities. Consequentially, it could be proclaimed that obedience facilitated increased incidences of violence as a majority of persons attributed their actions to the authority figure. This was in the sense that if they had not attained orders from an authoritative figure then they would have never taken part in the acts they engaged in, in the first place. Individuals, on most occasions, carried out acts of violence on the pretense that they were just following orders. This would be regardless of it being that there were those who engaged in violence out of their own self-volition or their desire to act in an aggressive manner. Over the years, people have committed mass killings in different regions across the universe all in the name of following orders issued by their superiors. For instance, United States troops who were deployed in Vietnam slaughtered more than 200 unarmed Vietnamese among whom were innocent women and children (Kelman, 1973, p. 31). 

Nonetheless, on a number of occasions, people were more willing to follow the decisions or judgments made by their group members even if by following their groups’ judgments they would be going astray or being on the wrong side of history. People are always more reluctant to break ranks having developed the fear that by doing so they would face dire consequences for their actions. Besides, no one would ever venture into an act, which would bring forth negative consequences as part of his or her life. The people who also take part in the development of policies that guided individuals’ conduct in the society were also under increased pressure in most instances to conform to the desires of persons in higher authority. However, in situations when group members made flawed decisions, at certain times, it resulted into violence. For example, the decision that was made during President John Kennedy’s reign referred to as the ‘Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba’ led to the death of a number of the inhabitants of Cuba (Leyens et al., 2000, p. 186). Whenever people thought in groups as opposed to thinking at an individual level, people failed to embrace contingency planning and critical thinking, which are two important elements that assisted individuals to make critical decisions at different times in their lives. When people think and act in groups it is always for the primary purpose of attaining group cohesion and unity. The main reason why the United States government joined in the Iraq war in the year 2003 was the groupthink influence (Leyens et al., 2000, p. 187). Policy leaders who engaged in the making of decisions concerning the invasion of Iraq did that in the hope that they would be able to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq something that did not turn out to be the case even after the United States invaded Iraq on the pretense of working to quell the conflict. 

One of the sole reasons why most people used excessive violence against their victims was so that they could obliterate the human qualities of their victims (Lang, 2010, p. 226). In some way, their aggression against other people made them feel good about themselves. Nonetheless, most persons engaged in violent acts in the hope that they would be able to gain control over their target groups and their property. Individuals’ inability to understand the dehumanizing nature of their acts of violence is what would make people continue committing atrocities. Some people even found pleasure in committing murder or oppressing other people perhaps because of the torture they experienced in their past lives.    

According to the ‘social learning theory’ developed by Albert Bandura, it was believed that children did not have to attain rewards or undergo experiences that frustrated them in order for them to show aggressive behavior (Kreidie & Monroe, 2002, p. 10). Instead, most children learned aggressive behavior from merely looking at how other people in their surroundings conducted themselves. If elderly persons in the surrounding behaved aggressively at different points in time, then children who found themselves in such kinds of situations would develop the misinformed notion that it was okay to exhibit violence as long as it was for the same reasons their role models were forced to act violently. Observational learning has made a good number of individuals to engage in the same crimes that had been committed at an earlier point in their lives. People learn to act or behave in an aggressive manner not only from observing how other people conducted themselves in the real world but also through witnessing incidences of violence conveyed through video games and the media. In situations whereby individuals are exposed to incidences of violence for the most part of their lives, persons would perceive violence as a normal way of life, learn new ways that they could conduct themselves violently, and show their lack of knowledge about violence and its dreadful consequences. This is something that would be evident through the minimized levels of psychological responses to violent occurrences in the middle of a majority of persons who were exposed to violent happenings for a prolonged duration. Most importantly, whenever individuals were subjected to consistent violence, persons developed an exaggerated understanding of danger as part of their everyday life (Kreidie & Monroe, 2002, p. 10). People developed the understanding that their world was even more troubled than it actually was or it already is. 

People developed their social identities based on the roles they played in their groups (Kreidie & Monroe, 2002, p. 12). Depending on the roles that individuals played in their groups there were those who exercised control over other people and those who remained under the dominion of their superiors. Nonetheless, people were bound to adopt some of the tendencies portrayed by other people in their groups. This is such that if they witnessed acts of violence for the most part of their lives they would deem it okay to engage in violence. Social learning would take place through the systems of reward and punishment. Similarly, individuals learned how to conduct themselves in certain ways by adopting or internalizing the values and expectations that were developed as part of a group they became a part of in life. For instance, most people became part of gang violence activities by adopting the values, expectations, and practices of the gangs they joined in the hope that they would attain self-fulfillment or acquire a purpose in life for the people who felt lost in life. When children saw elderly people in their surroundings become part of gangs and lead luxurious lifestyles even if that meant engaging in violent activities, such teenagers always wanted to follow the example of such persons in the hope that they would also get to experience the same lifestyle as the gang members. This was mostly when these teenagers did not find everything going so well with them in their societies. After all, who would not wish for a lifestyle that they did not have to struggle much to make ends meet in their surroundings, if people they respected were part of renowned gangs? Teenagers joined gangs in the hope that by doing so they would be in a better position of acquiring rewards such as power, respect and a sense of safety and belonging. 

sheldon

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