Understanding Violence

Understanding Violence

Understanding Violence

Understanding Violence


What impels human beings to harm others-family members or strangers? And how can these impulses and actions be prevented or controlled? Heightened public awareness of and concern about what is widely perceived as a recent explosion of violence, on a spectrum from domestic abuse to street crime to terrorism has motivated behavioral and social scientists to cast new light on old questions. Many hypotheses have been offered. In this book Elizabeth Kandel Englander sorts, structures, and evaluates them. She draws on contemporary research and theory in varied fields-clinical and social psychology, sociology, criminology, psychiatry, social work, neuropsychology, behavioral genetics, and education-to present a uniquely balanced, integrated, and readable summary of what we currently know about the causes and effects of violence. Throughout, she emphasizes the necessity of distinguishing among different types of violent behavior and of realizing that nature and nurture interact in human development. There are no simple answers and many well-accepted "facts" must be challenged. This thoroughly revised and expanded second edition of Understanding Violence will be welcomed by all those concerned with violent offenders and their victims, and by their students and trainees. New chapters discuss: biological and psychological factors in violence; developmental and social learning factors in violence; and youth violence, including gang conflicts and school shootings. New coverage includes recent research on: children's use of violent video games and their relationship to violent or aggressive behavior-alcohol use and violence, and the role of alcohol and drugs in violent crime; the types and causes of sexual assault; spousal homicide, child abuse, and physical punishment; and social and cultural factors in violence. Updated statistics on frequencies and types of violent crimes are also incorporated.


This book was conceived of in a simpler era-B. S. E. (Before September Eleventh). Then, in 1993 B. S. E., the worst problems our nation faced were a spate of violent crimes. I did not know then, as I do now, that the violent crime rate in the United States would peak and begin to decline after 1994.

Since that time, however, new years have brought new problems. School shootings, a crime inconceivable in 1993, were all too common by 1998. And although the menace of terrorism existed abroad in 1993, here at home it was still a distant bell.

The first edition of this book dealt with the causes of crime across a broad range of fields. My good fortune, and a good deal of dumb luck, enabled me to study the causes of violence in such diverse areas as biology, sociology, and psychiatry. Having worked with professionals from all those fields, I was struck by their lack of coordination and the limited understanding many professionals bring to the wide range of knowledge about what causes violence. In 1993 I was teaching a course called the Psychology of Criminal Behavior (a course I still teach) with no text available that spanned the breadth of the fields that contributed to our knowledge about crime, violent crime in particular. On a walk with me, my husband could have let me gripe. Instead he pointed out this niche and sensibly suggested that I fill it.

More than 8 years after I first put pen to paper for the first edition, the second edition is now completed and spans the breadth of different fields even more effectively, I think, than before. My goals remain unchanged. I am convinced that violence is a relentlessly self-destructive human behavior that may be justifiable at the individual level, but makes no sense from the standpoint of human . . .

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