Adolescent Mental Health and Gang Violence

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It is not uncommon to hear about gang violence in many areas throughout the United States, including rural and urban areas. According to Dr. Sarah Kelly, a Registered Nurse at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, “Almost 30% of cities with more than 2,500 people have reported problems with gangs, and more than 80% of cities with more than 50,000 people have reported these problems.” Dr. Kelly and her colleagues sought to discover the link of exposure to gang violence, its effects on adolescents’ mental health, and their increased interest in illegal activities. According to Kelly, “there is a lack of research on adolescents’ exposure to gang violence and the effects it can have on their mental health.”

Exposure to gang violence or being an active gang member can have multiple effects on one’s mental health. In a recent study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, Kelly used multiple methods to collect data from adolescents, their parents, and their community caregivers, to determine the effects of being exposed to gang violence. Interviews were conducted with the adolescents asking about their direct or indirect exposure to gang violence and how it had affected their lives. Following that, adolescents were asked to complete a Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC), which included subscales for anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, sexual concerns, dissociation, and anger. The study found a positive correlation between anger and depression and anger and dissociation for the adolescents. This suggests that anger can manifest itself in a variety of ways such as the victims or witnesses of gang violence expressing their anger as depression or utilizing a safeguard for themselves by becoming dissociated and not remembering the traumatic event.

In addition to the checklist that the adolescents filled out, the parents and caregivers filled out the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), which asked about the behavior and mental health of their adolescent(s) including things such as rule-breaking, aggression, anger, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and posttraumatic stress disorder . They found that the parents and/or caregivers stated that their children were experiencing either a mixture of many of the listed behaviors on the CBCL or just a couple.

Finally, they asked community center employees, teachers, and administrators to complete the Teacher Report Form (TRF), which asked about the same behaviors as the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) . They found a negative correlation between dissociative symptoms on the TRF and externalizing symptoms on the CBCL which is an interesting finding since dissociation is usually correlated with amnesia or hysteria. Dissociation is also a common coping mechanism for victims of traumatic events, which is why it is interesting that it would be correlated with symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

The current study shows that exposure to gang violence can have numerous side effects on adolescents, which creates a growing concern for the youth that live in gang occupied neighborhoods. Many adolescents cannot avoid the dangerous situations in these neighborhoods, which is causing drastic effects on their lives while living in these dangerous cities. Also, many of the youth that live in these cities cannot afford to move, which makes them more prone to gang violence. According to Kelly, “Adolescents deserve to live in a supportive nurturing environment and we need to help them achieve that vision.”

By Timothy Zietz
Tim is a Psychology and Human Biology Major with a minor in Chemistry.  He plans on graduating in 2015 and attending medical school to obtain his MD and PhD and specializing in neurosurgery.

Masculinity, Sexual Prejudice, and Antigay Anger

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It will come as no surprise to most that gay men and women are often the targets of aggression ranging from verbal abuse to crimes against property to physical assault.  In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers Wilson Vincent, Dominic Parrott and John Peterson investigated why people commit such crimes against sexual minorities.

Dominic Parrott, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Georgia State University, suggests that “aggression toward sexual minorities stems from extreme expressions of dominant cultural values.” Past research has demonstrated that the values of masculinity and religious fundamentalism are strongly associated with sexual prejudice.  However, the link between these values and actually perpetrating aggressive acts against sexual minorities is still unknown.

In order to find out if and how masculinity and religious fundamentalism lead to aggressive acts, they asked male participants questions about masculinity, religious fundamentalism, and anger and aggression toward lesbians and gay men. The relationships between participants’ responses provided some insight as to how internalizing dominant cultural values translates into aggression.

High levels of masculinity directly affected aggression towards gay men and lesbians.  In particular, anti-femininity, a subscale of masculinity, was associated with increased sexual prejudice and anger in response to sexual minorities, which in turn was linked with higher acts of aggression towards sexual minorities.

The link between religious fundamentalism and aggression was a bit more complicated. Although religious fundamentalism was associated with aggression towards gay men and lesbians, there were other mitigating factors. The relationship was only found when religious fundamentalism was combined with sexual prejudice and/or antigay anger. “These data suggest that religious fundamentalism is a risk factor for aggression toward gay men and lesbians inasmuch as it fosters sexual prejudice,” states Dominic, “otherwise, religious fundamentalism could potentially serve as a protective factor for aggression toward gay men and lesbians. “ He concludes,

“Anger in response to sexual minorities is a critical mediating variable linking the internalization of certain cultural values…sexual prejudice, and aggression toward gay men and lesbians. In other words, these values lead to anger in response to sexual minorities, and that anger facilitates aggressive acts.”

This study begins to untangle the sometimes confusing relationships between certain mainstream values, anger, and aggression. It also demonstrates how there is not one quality or belief that predicts behavior and that people with similar beliefs don’t necessarily engage in the same types of behaviors.

By Kate Darnell
Kate is a recent graduate of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

An “A” in Aggression may lead to an “F” in College Relationships

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It is far from uncommon to hear of dating aggression among college couples. Recently, a research team led by Erica Woodin, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Victoria and a registered Clinical Psychologist in British Colombia, Canada, published a study on dating aggression in emerging adulthood.

Their study looked at the roles of relationships along with individual attitudes and emotional states to predict the probability that one will commit an act of dating aggression during emerging adulthood. The researchers predicted that there would be a link between depressive symptoms and attitudes that condone aggression with individual’s relationship bonds and acts of partner aggression. More specifically, they measured cooperation, psychological aggression, physical assault, sexual force, and injury.

Sixty-five college couples completed a two-hour assessment on the history and route of their relationship. Fifty couples were placed under the category of “aggressive couples,” and showed more psychological and mild physical abuse in comparison to the “non aggressive couples”. Characteristics of these “aggressive” couples included lower female relationship satisfaction, weaker relationship bonds, higher condoning attitudes of aggression from males, and greater symptoms of depression in females. The “aggressive couples” also participated in an intervention designed to reduce partner aggression while the “non-aggressive couples” did not have to complete any further tasks.

Woodin shared, “The primary message of this study is that aggression in college dating couples is most likely when the relationship bond is weak and partners are experiencing symptoms of depression, but that when men in particular believe that it’s ok to be physically aggressive against women, they are at even greater risk of being physically aggressive against their partners. She continued, “There may be a gender difference in which men’s aggression can be predicted by their pro-aggression attitudes whereas women’s aggression is better predicted by their mood state and the quality of their relationship.”

In addition, Woodin felt passionate about the necessity of educating young men in particular. She illustrated this feeling by saying that, “Hitting women is never ok and that we also need to help young men and women learn healthy strategies for handling emotions in their relationship so that fights don’t escalate into aggression.”

There is good news that came from this study as well. The researchers found that by following up on the couples who received feedback and a brief assessment regarding their aggression were “significantly less physically aggressive with their partner in the following nine months.” They also concluded that “it is possible for men and women to become less aggressive in their relationships if there is awareness and motivation to change the aggressive behaviors.”

By Amarra Bricco
Amarra is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development and Spanish. A senior, she plans on graduating in the Spring of 2014 and attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology.

Youth Violence: Normal Rebellion, Mental Illness, or Both?

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Most would argue that youth violence is becoming a growing concern in today’s society. A recent study by Jennifer Wareham and Denise Paquette, published in the Criminal Justice and Behavior Journal, explored whether or not youth are just being defiant, or if they also may suffer from some sort of mental health problem.

Wareham and Paquette hypothesized that mental health problems, those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), would be linked to violence frequency among adolescents. Wareham indicated, “The co-morbidity of mental health problems and antisocial behavior (e.g., delinquency) presents a serious challenge for treatment and prevention initiatives.  We hope that our work contributes to the growing body of research that is helping to elucidate the link between mental health problems and delinquency and inform public policy.” They also hypothesized that mental health problems would intensify the effects of other risks on violent behavior.

Wareham and Paquette did find that mental health problems were associated with violence in adolescents.  Wareham states, “This effect remains significant even when controlling for a variety of individual demographic characteristics, prior violent offending, peer problems, family problems, and neighborhood conditions.”  With this link, it is important that those teens that exhibit oppositional defiant behaviors see a professional who can help address these concerns, possibly preventing violent behaviors from becoming serious matters.

The DSM is the resource that psychologists and other mental health professionals use to help diagnose mental illnesses. Though the DSM-5 was released in May of 2013, the DSM-IV was used for this research.

It is normal and healthy for adolescents to rebel against their parents a times, but most will not complete violent acts due to wanting to be “independent.”  Wareham states, “Certainly, not all youth demonstrating oppositional defiant problems will become violent, but, on average, such youth are at risk of demonstrating future violent behaviors.  This means it is important to direct youths experiencing such problems to professional persons and resources to adequately address the underlying issues associated with oppositional defiance and aggressive behaviors.” Parents and other professionals should keep a close eye on this to ensure that adolescents are getting the proper help they need when dealing with mental health issues.

By KaNisha Flemming
KaNisha is a double major in Psychology and Human Development who plans on graduating in Spring of 2014. She then plans on attending graduate school to earn a Masters in Counseling and hopes to work in the prison system or with juvenile delinquents.

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Dr. Jennifer Wareham is an Associate Professor in the department of Criminal Justice at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.  She possesses a doctorate degree in criminology from the University of South Florida.  She can be reached at jwareham@wayne.edu

Dr. Denise Paquette Boots is an Associate Professor in the program in Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, TX.  She possesses a doctorate degree in criminology from the University of South Florida.  She can be reached at deniseboots@utdallas.edu

5 Things I Learned (or was reminded of) During My Dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura

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Last week, thanks to my good friend, Regan Gurung, I was lucky enough to sit down for a two-hour dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura.  For those of you who don’t know of Dr. Bandura’s work, he’s arguably the most famous living psychologist (or, at least, amongst the top three) and certainly the most popular.  His most famous work, The Bobo Doll Study, changed the way people thought of both learning and aggression, as it flew in the face of the accepted theories of the time, conditioning and catharsis, respectively.

The Bobo Doll Study, first done in 1961, is thought of by most psychologists to be one of the three most famous psychology studies of all time (along with the Milgram Obedience Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment).   In fact, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because you never took an intro psych class or because you took an intro psych class a very long time ago and simply forgot (i.e., it’s unlikely it wasn’t covered).  What many people don’t realize, though, is that it wasn’t just one study.  It was a series of studies that led to two books on aggression and paved the way for a massive shift in the way psychologists thought about learning.  Consequently, his work matters to me as a psychologist, an anger and aggression researcher, and a teacher.

I don’t mind sounding a little bit star-struck by saying that this dinner was one of the highlights of my relatively young career.  It wasn’t just fun, though.  It was meaningful in other ways.  Here are five things I learned (or was reminded of) from Dr. Bandura.

1. Basic research matters.  In my research methods course, I try and drive home to students the idea that basic research is important.  Even though applied research feels more exciting and more important (wouldn’t we all rather find the cure to something than do the studies that lead up to finding a cure?), the vast majority of applied research projects find their roots in basic research.  Dr. Bandura provided me with more ammo for this discussion by reminding me that his original bobo doll study was not designed with any sort of application in mind.  This was a study on learning and aggression, pure and simple.  Yes, it was putting behaviorism to the test and, yes, it had clear implications to a host of areas (e.g., media violence, advertising).  In fact, Dr. Bandura is now working on several international projects to apply this work.  But, none of that changes the fact that it was originally carried out as a test of theory with no other intentions.

2. There’s an important place for social activism in academics. Even though his work started as basic research, his current work is clearly intended to bring about social change.  He described a book he’s writing on moral disengagement where he will tackle a variety of politically controversial topics (e.g., gun violence, climate change).  Meanwhile, he’s involved in literacy projects on at least three continents.  To those who believe that professors should avoid any sort of activism, Dr. Bandura serves as a nice example of how wrong they are.  He’s doing important work that changes the lives of people across the globe.

3. The support of your institution matters. One thing I was completely unaware of was that there had been many attempts to discredit Dr. Bandura early in his career.  The Bob Doll Study, which he completed as an untenured professor at Stanford, was seen as a threat to some fairly powerful groups (television networks, advertising agencies, etc.).  At one point, he was asked to testify at a congressional hearing on television violence and, as a result of his work, advertising standards were changed to cut out acts of violence.  Not surprisingly, some groups worked to find fault with his research, and he even described turning on the news to find a special on him and the flaws in his research.   I asked him if it bothered him and, though he didn’t answer that question directly, he did tell a story about being invited to a meeting with a Stanford administrator at the height of all this.  The administrator said, “They’re saying some pretty bad things about your research [pause].  Don’t let the bastards get you down.”  I can only imagine that for an untenured professor who found himself somewhat unexpectedly in the public eye, that sort of support would go a long way toward giving him the courage to carry on.  I also found myself wondering if that sort of thing would happen again today.

4. So does passion. Before we even entered the restaurant, he started telling us about his upcoming book.  And it didn’t stop there.  He talked us through almost every chapter- not just the content, but why he was interested in it and how he arrived at his conclusions.  As he talked about his work, there was an excitement in his eyes unlike anything you would expect from someone who has been doing this for 50-plus years.  He is genuinely passionate about this book.  He is not doing it for the money (“the sales will take care of themselves,” he said.).  He’s writing it to leave at least one more mark on the world he’s already influenced so greatly.

5. Take pictures. As I said before, most psychologists will tell you that there are three studies in Psychology that stand out as the most famous:  The Milgram Obedience Experiments, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and Bandura’s initial Bobo Doll Study.  Regan asked him why he thinks these three studies became so well known.  He pointed to three things: (1) each had social implications. (2) each involved aggression and included findings that were surprising to people, and (3) each had photo and video evidence of their findings.  We spent a lot of time on this last one and how, in a visual world like the one we live in, video/photo footage goes a long way toward helping ideas stand out to people.  In fact, some of the other famous studies in psychology (Mischel’s Marshmallow Test, Asch’s Conformity Experiment, and Chabris and Simons Invisible Gorilla Study) all include video footage that helps drive the point home for students and the public at large.

Anger and Intimate Partner Violence

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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a widespread problem.  Due to the aggressive nature of these acts, it stands to reason that anger would contribute to IPV.  A recent study by Dr. Sara Elkins and colleagues in Psychology of Violence sought to evaluate the link between recent anger and likelihood of IPV.  According to Elkins, “[a]nger interventions fell out of favor in partner violence intervention programs in the mid-90’s in response to claims that anger management interventions for domestic violence infer blame on the victim, promote perpetrator denial because they don’t account for abuse related to exerting power and control, and may place female partners at greater risk for revictimization.” Many local and state advocates for victims of domestic violence have removed anger-focused treatments in a reaction to these assumptions – but this decision may have been too hasty.

No act is committed in a vacuum and as such there are multiple factors that contribute to IPV perpetration.  IPV is most likely when the individual possesses strong instigation (exposure to behaviors by a partner that typically “provoke” an urge to aggress), strong impellance (trait or situational factors that prepare the urge to aggress when meeting an instigating factor), and weak inhibition (trait or situational factor that will increase the likelihood that the individual will suppress the urge to aggress).  Past research has also suggested that younger age, greater relationship dissatisfaction, and shorter length of relationship have been related to increased rates of IPV.  To add to this research, Elkins also examined any possible gender differences that existed.

In Elkins’ current study, participants were given a handheld computer on which they completed a daily-electronic diary assessment for two months.  It measured relationship satisfaction, daily anger, and occurrence of aggression toward intimate partners (i.e., psychological, physical assault, and sexual coercion).  Recent anger was correlated with all forms of IPV.  Younger individuals are more likely than older individuals to engage in psychological aggression at moderate levels of anger.  Individuals in longer relationship were also more likely to use psychological aggression than physical aggression or sexual coercion. The rates of IPV occurring in the presence of anger were comparative between genders. The study also found that even though recent anger and relationship dissatisfaction increased the likelihood of IPV, the combination of both of these factors does not have a cumulative effect.

Studies such as these have important information for the social policies we create.  Anger is related to IPV in some cases and as such, should be part of intervention programs for those who may benefit from anger management strategies.  According to recent research, about half of the states with imposed guidelines for intervention programs for domestic violence prohibit anger-focused interventions.  The Alabama Counsel against Domestic Violence (2009) states that “men who batter use anger, alcohol/drug use, and stress as excuses for their abusive behaviors.”  Statements such as this may close possible avenues to prevent future IPV.  Elkins also adds that “[b]ased on anger ratings, electronic momentary technology could be used to provide in-the-moment coping for anger through scheduled behavioral and cognitive strategies.”

By Sarah Bohman
Sarah is a senior with a major in Psychology and a minor in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology after graduating.

More Guns, Less Crime? Nope.

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Since the Sandy Hook shootings on December 14th there has been considerable discussion of gun violence in the United States.  As often happens with discussions of policy-making, though, very little of the conversation has been driven by the research on gun-related crime.  Gun-enthusiasts, in particular seem to gravitate toward anecdotal evidence of how legal gun ownership is the only way to prevent gun related crime.  In fact, just days after the shooting, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, argued that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Of course, as has been addressed before, the data on the impact of concealed carry laws has been difficult to interpret and has allowed for differing conclusions.  However, the relationship between gun ownership in a community and gun-related crime in that community can be tested empirically.  This was what Dr. Anthony Hoskins set out to do in his 2011 article in Criminal Justice Studies where he found, quite simply, that when it comes to murder and aggravated assault, more guns equal more crime.

His paper used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (a telephone survey conducted every year) and was designed to explore the relationships between percentages of homes with a gun in particular counties with the rates of murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults in those counties, while controlling for a host of demographic variables (e.g., total population, unemployment rate).  Ultimately, he was evaluating three different theories on gun ownership and crime: (1) that gun ownership rates are unrelated to violent crime, (2) that gun ownership rates are associated with a decrease in violent crime (the view held by LaPierre and other gun enthusiasts), and (3) that gun ownership rates are associated with an increase in violent crime.

In the end, his evaluation found support for the third hypothesis, that the more guns in a community, the higher the violent crime rate.  Specifically, what he identified is that the “introduction of a gun into a violent incident raises the risk of injury or death” (p. 127).  In other words, yes, you can kill someone with a hammer or a baseball bat, but you cannot kill them from as far away or in rapid succession the way you can with a gun.  It should also be noted that these findings run completely contrary to what LaPierre and other gun advocates have been arguing.  They would argue that a higher percentage of gun owners in a community would be negatively correlated with all three forms of violent crime.  Instead, it was positively correlated with two types of violent crime (murder and aggravated assault) and uncorrelated with the third (burglary).

By Ryan C. Martin

Reflections on Gun Violence, Gun Enthusiasm, and Whether or Not Killing is Cool

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Over the last few days, I’ve read article after article about the tragedy in Connecticut.  From the need for gun-control to the need for civility, from why gun control won’t work to why we need to do more for the mentally ill, it seems every topic has been covered.  I admit, I’ve been angrier than most people over this shooting and it’s been hard to control it sometimes.  I’ve been told by friends, family, and acquaintances that there is no sense blaming anyone and that it doesn’t do any good to get angry.

I’m writing this as much to process my own anger and sadness and fear as anything else.  With all due respect to those who want me to stop pointing fingers, I simply don’t agree.  I don’t believe this shooting, or any shooting, just happens.  I think they are allowed to happen because we as a society have failed in a variety of ways to do the things that need to be done.

In the interest of full-disclosure, let me start by saying that I hate guns.  I have no interest in them and no desire to own, use, or even hold one.  Ultimately, the reason I hate guns is because I have no desire to kill anyone or anything.  I’m certain I would if I had to in order to protect myself or my family.  But if I ever did kill someone, I know I would be tortured by it forever.  It would haunt me because, when all is said and done, I think killing is always bad… even when it’s justified.

Despite my hatred of guns, I don’t fault people for wanting to own a gun for defense.  I think it’s usually a bad decision to own a gun (the data says they rarely save lives and increase the chances of accidental death in the home dramatically) and I would discourage my friends and family from doing so.  But, ultimately, people make lots of bad decisions about safety and this is just one of them.  Nor do I fault people for enjoying hunting.  While I don’t see the appeal, I understand that people enjoy it as a sport the same way I enjoy certain sports.

So, to any gun owners out there who might be reading this, please don’t think I am trying to paint you all with one brush.  I’m not.  I know many gun owners and find them to be responsible, smart people.  In fact, the gun owners I know are equally repulsed by what I’m about to describe.

There is a type of gun-owner, the gun-enthusiast, that seems different from the responsible gun owners I know.  Gun-enthusiasts do not see guns as tools for hunting or protection exclusively.  They see them and are attracted to them as killing machines.  They think guns are cool and they think that the bigger the gun in their hand, the tougher they are.  They are the ones who have bumper stickers that read, “Don’t mess with the 2nd Amendment and I won’t be forced to exercise it” or signs up in their yard that read, “Trespassers will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again.”  More to the point, they are the people who created, sold, and/or bought the gun range targets designed to look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed, boy who was killed by George Zimmerman in February, 2012 (these targets sold out before anyone had a chance to complain about them).

I like to cling to the idea that the people I’m talking about are rare.  I’m not so sure, though.  In trying to get a better sense of what gun-enthusiasts are like, I visited the website of Guns and Ammo, the self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Widely Read Firearms Magazine.”  Quite honestly, the things I saw and read there are more than a little upsetting.

The first thing I saw on their website was the article, “Gift Guide for the Tactical Guy,” featuring a photo of Santa, in dark sunglasses, holding a rifle.  Incidentally, it’s actually one of two photos of Santa holding a gun on their homepage.  The other is for a caption contest and shows Santa in what looks like a war zone, firing a large gun.  If you click on the link, you will find hundreds of submissions to the contest, including the following:

  • Instead of coal, you get lead
  • Delivering gifts in Afghanistan….
  • We wish you a merry Christmas to you and your kind
  • Merry CHRISTmas–taliban–These ROUNDS are on me..gifts delivered!!
  • Naughty, Nice, Expendable….its all good!!
  • If you’re against Christians you’re against me. If you’re against me I’m against you. Since I have a bigger better rifle and more ammo, I’ll win. Too late, you loose.
  • Ho Ho Holy War.

This is exactly what I mean when I talk about people finding joy in the idea of killing.

I went back to read the article about gifts for tactical guys where my first question was, of course, “what’s a tactical guy?”  I know what it means to be tactical and think of myself as tactical about a great many things (the use of words, for example) but I don’t think that’s what they were referring to.  A quick glimpse at the gift guide reveals that, to them, a tactical guy is someone who is prepared to kill at a moment’s notice.  A tactical guy carries an assault rifle or automatic pistol whenever they leave the house.  A tactical guy carries a tactical tomahawk that is “built to pound” and is perfect for “breaching operations.”  Finally, a tactical guy also has dress pants specially designed to conceal weapons for a night on the town.

And this isn’t all.  I found articles explaining why assault rifles are better for home defense than you might think, on what the media doesn’t understand about guns (full of unverified claims), and even an article on what your assault rifle says about you.  But what was most revealing to me was what I found in the discussion forums.  The good news is that most of the people who posted seemed relatively responsible, though a little paranoid.  They discuss things like strategies for using ATM machines late at night, the best types of holsters, and gun-related current events.  Though I disagree vehemently with the politics, most of it was pretty similar to what you find on any political thread on any Facebook page or discussion forum.

Scattered within these relatively reasonable posts, however, were hauntingly upsetting comments about killing.  In response to this story about a recent shooting in Minnesota, one person wrote that no good deed goes unpunished and how unfair it was that the shooter would be punished after doing the cops a favor by taking out two criminals.  Later, regarding a law he/she opposed, one person made reference to lynching the politicians who passed it.  Finally, in response to President Obama’s speech at the vigil in Newtown, one person wrote, “Why don’t idiots with guns ever target some of the gun grabbers? 20-something innocent kids die, and at least that many worthless congress-critters live on to trample on our rights. There’s something way wrong with that picture!”

To this person, the tragedy wasn’t that 27 people were killed, it’s that the wrong 27 people were killed.

As I was writing this, a friend alerted me to the story on NPR about the AR-15, the gun used by the shooter in Connecticut.  Melissa Block interviewed gun expert, Malcolm Brady, who described the gun as “cool” several times, even referring to it as “the Rambo effect.”  When pressed about his description of it as cool, he couldn’t really answer other than to say that some may be reliving their days in the military.  Later in the interview, he estimated that sales of this gun will go up in response to this tragedy.  Again, when pressed, he couldn’t really give a clear answer other than to say that “the people who will be buying them will be buying them in the premise that I can prevent that same thing happening at my house or my business or my location.”

But I think the real answer is something he already said several times.  I think the reason sales are going to go up is largely because some people think this gun is cool and will make them tough.  They don’t think of it as a tool.  They think of it as accessory.  They want to be like Rambo and on some level they hope they get a chance to use it.  The question that needs an answer is the one Melissa Block asked but didn’t get a real answer to:

“I have to ask you, Mr. Brady, you’re talking about the coolness of a weapon that was just used to mow down 20 children?”

By Ryan Martin

Does Experiencing Violence Lead to Violent Behavior?

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While psychologists cannot prove that viewing violent media causes violent behavior, there is a body of evidence that suggests a relationship between viewing violent media and aggressive behaviors.  This research, while important, does not cover the multitude of ways that someone can witness violence. There are thousands of children who witness or are victims of violence in their home or neighborhood.  In fact, a 2009 study of over 4,500 adolescents in Pediatrics revealed that over 60% had been exposed to violence within the past year as either a victim or a witness. These circumstances can contribute to the cycle in which the victim of violence becomes the producer of violence.  More recently, Dr. Eva Kimonis examined the relationship between anger, exposure to violence, and the likelihood of perpetrating violent crimes.

The 2011 study, in Child and Youth Care, explored a sample of male juvenile offenders between 14 and 17 years old to examine a possible link between anger and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and its relation to violence perpetration.  Participants’ level of violence exposure, anger, PTSD symptomology, and violence perpetration both prior to and while inside the facility was assessed. Anger was found to mediate violence perpetration but PTSD symptomology did not show this same correlation.

According to Dr. Kimonis, “violence exposure can result in problematic outcomes” such as PTSD and anger.  Her research focused on juvenile offenders because “they have extremely high rates of violence exposure.”  She also states that this exposure, if severe enough, can lead to changes in the brain in areas that respond to threats and stressors.  As a result, children that are exposed to large amounts of violence respond stronger and in more aggressive ways than children who are not exposed to violence. 

Dr. Kimonis’ research has shown that anger can, at least partially, provide a link between being a victim of violence and committing violent acts. It is important to realize that this study was correlational, so we cannot conclude that being a victim or witnessing victimization causes any one person to victimize others. However, it is important to note that we can try to identify those individuals who are at risk for becoming violent offenders or those who are already violent offenders. 

Dr. Kimonis’ research seeks to “understand why adolescents act violently. Gaining this knowledge can be helpful to developing prevention and treatment programs to intervene with violent youth or youth at risk for violence.”  Early intervention in young children may be able to save countless lives from violent crimes.  If problem behaviors are addressed early, interventions can be implemented before more severe problem behaviors arise.

By Sarah Bohman
Sarah is a senior with a major in Psychology and a minor in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology after graduating.