The Causes of Violence

By Monahan, John | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 1994 | Go to article overview

The Causes of Violence

Monahan, John, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

I have been asked to summarize everything that we really know about the biological, sociological, and psychological causes of violence--in 20 minutes or less. Unfortunately, I think I can do it.

But, I warn you in advance what I cannot do-what no one can honestly do--and that is to offer a neat, simple story that explains why so many Americans are afraid to walk home alone at night. Only people on the extremes of the political spectrum have that luxury and that conceit.

The political right believes that the root cause of violent crime is bad genes or bad morals. Not so, says the left. The root cause of violent crime is bad housing or dead-end jobs. And, I tell you that while doing something about the causes of violence surely requires a political ideology, the only way we can determine what those causes are in the first place is to check our ideologies at the door and to try to keep our minds open as wide, and for as long, as we can bear.

I realize that this is not easily done. But, if you give it a try, which I urge you to do, I think that you will find that violence does not have one root cause. Rather, violence has many tangled roots. Some grow toward the left and some grow toward the right. We have to find the largest ones, whichever way they grow, and only then can we debate how to cut them off.

Biological Causes

First, the biological causes. These are the easiest to talk about, because there is not much to say.

Many biological factors have been nominated as candidates for causes of violence. Hormones like testosterone, transmitters in the brain like serotonin, and blood abnormalities like hypoglycemia are only a few that have been mentioned.

Biological factors do not have to be hereditary. They could be caused by a head injury, poor nutrition, or environmental events, such as exposure to lead paint. Fortunately, the National Academy of Sciences just reviewed hundreds of studies on the relationship between biology and violence, and it came to one clear bottom-line conclusion: "No patterns precise enough to be considered reliable biological markers for violent behavior have yet been identified."(1) The National Academy of Sciences found many promising leads that should be vigorously pursued by researchers, but so far, it could point to nothing as a proven, or even close to proven, biological risk factor for future violence. Sociological Causes

Next come the sociological causes. We know the most about social factors and violence, because social factor, such as demography, are relatively easy to measure and because people have been measuring them for a long time. What do we know? We know a great deal about a relatively small number of things.

We know that to live in America is to live in the land of the brave, as well as in the home of the free. We are all familiar with depressing statistics about the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. But more depressing is this Nation's crime surplus. Compared with Japan, a nation of roughly comparable industrialization, with cities much more crowded than ours, the U.S. homicide rate is over 5 times higher, the rape rate is 22 times higher, and the armed robbery rate is an astounding 114 times higher.(2)

We also know that within America, violence is subject to great regional variation. The murder rate, for example, is almost twice as high in the South as it is in the Northeast, but the robbery rate is almost twice as high in the Northeast as it is in the South.(3)

We know that communities within all regions of America differ drastically among themselves in how violent they are. In general, the smaller the community, the lower the rate of violence. Within the same city, some neighborhoods have rates of violent crime 300 times higher than other neighborhoods.(4) We know that people who commit violence on the street are disproportionately poor and unemployed. Prior to their arrest, jail inmates had, on the average, an annual income at the Federal Government's official "poverty level," and about one-half were unemployed at the time they committed a violent crime. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Causes of Violence


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.