Violence in the Inner Man
By: James Foley
Violence in the Inner Man
Are men more inherently violent than women?
Across most countries you will see that men account for over 90% of all murders and men are over 70% most likely to be the gender that is murdered.
Where does this violent nature come from? Is there just something about men that makes them violent? What role does our culture have in creating these men?
This has been debated fiercely down through the years. This blog is not going to solve the questions but it may give you an opportunity to explore them. While you will draw your own conclusions I will make my own observations, which I welcome your comments on.
Violence and Aggression; What’s the difference?
The word aggression has a Latin origin and means, To come forward. When understood that way aggression is far less threatening.
For the sake of this blog I am defining aggression as an active response to a negative stimulus.
Aggression can be expressed as a continuum. Starting with the basic motivation needed to force yourself out of bed in the morning to acts of apparently nonsensical violence. Aggression is a stimulus for personal growth. It is essential for daily decision making. In life threatening situations it is how men put their survival instinct for themselves and others into action.
Humanity’s existence is dependent on the sex drive. This is an aggressive response against loneliness. Sexual violence can be very damaging to a relationship both physically and emotionally.
Simply put aggression is the human desire to get up and do something.
Violence is usually thought of as the only expression of aggression, because it has a very strong noticeable impact on the world. Violence occurs when aggression has not succeed in its aims.
Over a very long period of time unresolved aggression can explode into violence. All the tried avenues to express the strong desires of aggression have been exhausted. The man perceives he has no option but to explode. To let the tension he feels be released. It is his last ditch effort to resolve the initial problem. Usually this is unsuccessful and often very destructive.
Aggression and Testosterone
Testosterone is what is commonly known as the male sex hormone, though it is also found in women.
Increasing levels of testosterone is what brings about puberty in adolescent males. Studies have shown that testosterone levels coincide with the aggressive tendencies of men. Studies have shown that testosterone affects brain circuits that are involved in threat-processing and human aggression.
Because men are stronger due their higher level of testosterone they were traditionally given roles, jobs that generally were physically difficult or threatening. The belief being that men could handle it. This may have led to a social conditioning of men to be more aggressive and even violent.
In times gone by men were expected to be the providers for the family. The work required for this was physically hard, even dangerous. This could imply that over the centuries men learned to heighten their aggressive tendencies. For some men violence would then seem appropriate and its destructive effects would be acceptable. A man could even think violent aggression is what is expected of him.
Aggression and Social Learning
Social Learning Theory as espoused by Albert Bandura in 1973 states we learn our behaviour as children as we observe how those around us behave. The stronger our connection to these role models the more likely the child is to copy our role models behaviour. Especially if such behaviour seems to result in a reward of some kind.
Boys growing up to perceive violence as normal and as a way to solve problems will have less boundaries around it as men. This increases further for men who have been subject to violence as children.
Most of the research around violence in culture revolves around the family home. This is where violence is most likely to happen. Children are easily affected by violence in the family home. This is due to the depth of their relationships with their violent parents or siblings in a violent relationship.
Some children spend more time with media than with family. It is possible they may identify more with media characters than with family or any other real people. As we know all media regularly contains violence.
Video games which are generally played more by boys than girls and tend to be violent. They can be quite immersive as the player interacts in the violence and is rewarded if they win the big battle.
Research has shown a high degree of connection between violent behaviour and playing violent video games.
How do we apply this to boys?
Social learning mildly indicates that boys learn to be aggressive more so than girls. This indicates that social learning does not explain why men are more aggressive than women. It can however explain how men learn to translate their testosterone based innate aggression into violence.
Should parents and society then deliberately remove all violence from a boy’s environment? Would this stop the cycle of violent learning?
Well yes, less violent families and media will prevent associated violent behaviour.
Social learning though can not account for the innate aggressiveness of boys over girls. To try to stop aggressiveness in boys could make them frustrated and likely to violently respond, even indirectly. Before their first birthday boys have been noticed to be more aggressive than girls. A glance around a school playground will confirm this continues as they get older.
Can we say violence is innate in men or learned behaviour?
We can say that it is a bit of both. There is no doubt that the extra level of aggression in men is directly connected to their extra testosterone. However all men have reasonably the same amount of testosterone, but only some men are violent and they are not violent all the time.
The extra strength and risk taking of men does contribute to them generally being placed in more aggressive roles. Even today most armies are staffed by men etc. That does not explain why males are are more violent than females.
It maybe men feel they are expected to be violent due to the aggressive roles society tends to put them into.
Perhaps men are more violent due to learning violent behaviour from role models and the perceived acceptance of that behaviour. Rewarding such behaviour in their immediate social setting compounds the problem.
All the same we should tread carefully with how we train our boys how to manage their aggressive tendencies. We should not neutralise them. We should let them play rough but discourage them from playing tough.