Attitudes towards War, Killing, and Punishment of Children among Young People in Estonia, Finland, Romania, the Russian Federation, and the USA

Article excerpt

Objective To study the cultural differences in moral disengagement, which lends support to attitudes used to justify violence.

Methods We carried out classroom surveys of a total of 3122 students in the USA (Houston, TX, and Washington, DC) and in four European countries -- Estonia (Tartu), Finland (Helsinki), Romania (Satu Mare) and the Russian Federation (St Petersburg). Data were also taken from a random sample telephone survey of 341 young adults (aged 18-35 years)in Texas, USA. Ten distinct groups were studied. Seven questions were common to all the surveys, using identical statements about the participants' agreement with attitudes relating to war, diplomacy, killing, and the punishment of children.

Findings The US students were more likely than those in Europe to agree with the following statements: "War is necessary" (20% vs 9%), "A person has the right to kill to defend property" (54% vs 17%), and "Physical punishment is necessary for children" (27% vs 10%). Justification of war and killing was less common among females than males in all groups; other differences within the US groups and the European groups were smaller than the differences between the US and European groups.

Conclusion The results confirm the gap between the US and European groups in moral disengagement attitudes and tendencies that could lead to deadly violence.

Keywords Violence; War; Punishment; Attitude/ethnology; Child; Cross-cultural comparison; Europe; Estonia; Finland; Romania; Russian Federation; United States (source: MESH).

Mots cles Violence; Guerre; Punition; Attitude/ethnologie; Enfant; Comparaison transculturelle; Europe; Estonie; Finlande; Roumanie; Federation de Russie; Etats-Unis (source: INSERM).

Palabras clave Violencia; Guerra; Castigo; Actitud/etnologia; Nino; Comparacion transcultural; Europa; Estonia; Finlandia; Rumania; Federacion de Rusia; Estados Unidos (fuente: BIREME).

Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2001, 79: 382-387.

Voir page 387 le resume en francais. En la pagina 387 figura un resumen en espanol.

Introduction

Violence is a major international health problem (1) and public health leaders around the world are eager to learn how deadly conflicts can be prevented (2). To contribute to the search for creative solutions, the Committee on Refugees and Peace of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations has organized a programme of research and education to promote and sustain "cultures of peace" (3) among young people in diverse populations. This article summarizes the results of a pilot study in the USA (Texas and Washington, DC) and four European countries -- Estonia, Finland, Romania and the Russian Federation.

Aggressive responses to intergroup and international conflicts are partly determined by processes of moral disengagement (4). Through these processes, the perpetration of violence against potential victims is made acceptable by the expression of attitudes that influence personal and collective judgements of choices for resolving conflicts by acts of aggression (5). When moral disengagement occurs, violence is justified by invoking "rights" or "necessities" that provide excuses for the infliction of suffering upon others. Studies of schoolchildren in Italy, for example, have shown that individual differences in the propensity for aggression are related to differences in tendencies towards moral disengagement (6). Moral disengagement also influences group differences in levels of aggression. Studies comparing northern and southern populations in the USA have revealed that public support for lethal aggression (e.g. killing to defend one's property) was stronger in the southern regions, where homicide rates were higher, than in comparable northern areas (7). Moral disengagement also influences aggression within the family. A survey of several cities in North America and Latin America showed that individuals who endorsed the attitude that "physical punishment is necessary to raise children properly" were more likely to report acts of violence towards their children (8). …