2016 Summit: Surrounded by Violence News

Surrounded by Violence: Brain patterns tied to violence, though not conclusive

By Tyler Conrad ’17
THE ROUNDUP

Many studies have been done on aggressors to find patterns in brain behavior and function.

Mr. Chris White, PE Department Chair, athletic trainer and anatomy teacher, examined some of these studies for a presentation during last year’s Summit on Human Dignity.

“Obviously the brain controls all of our emotions and trains all of our physical activities, so you can tie any violent act to the brain,” Mr. White said on the brain’s role in this behavior.

The real question, Mr. White said, is how much of an influence one’s surroundings have in union with this genetic inheritance, or “nature versus nurture.”

Junior Cooper Dinowitz ’17, when shown a summary of the study, agreed that a balance between inheritance and upbringing can lead to, or away from, violent behavior, “People definitely behave as a result of their upbringing and childhood, but it makes sense that certain brain structures line up with certain behavior traits,” he said.

Mr. White referenced the book “Anatomy of Violence” by Adrian Raine from The University of Pennsylvania, which details a study of the brains of 41 murderers and the obvious patterns he saw in their brain structures. Interestingly enough, Raine himself ,who obviously wasn’t a killer, found that his brain followed a very similar pattern.

“I think the take home message in all of this is, some people have tendencies. But Raine was brought up in a loving, nurturing, environment, so he’s not a killer, but put this same person in a violent, abusive situation and he might become one,” Mr. White said on the Raine study.

Some of these patterns in their most basic form can include excess testosterone and low functioning empathy in the brain. Additionally, the brain may not be producing an acceptable amount of the hormone oxytocin, which can be linked to one’s social and loving nature.

When these patterns are spotted, the best way to prevent any future aggression is by surrounding these people in positive environments.

“We know that if you put violent people around more violent people they get more violent. The worst thing you can do with a violent person is place him in a room with more violence,” Mr. White said, going back to a common theme of last year’s Summit on restorative justice.

Oxytocin, the nurturing hormone stated above, is produced more frequently in a positive environment and not as often in one filled with hatred and violence.

“They administer oxytocin to people, sometimes even artificially, and they become more nurturing, more loving, more caring,” Mr. White said.

On a more local scale, Mr. White did say that there are certain factors about Brophy’s male-dominated environment that could lead to certain dangers, specifically the threat of future domestic violence offenders.

“I think we’ve got to be very careful, because in an all male environment there’s a tendency towards sexism, which can sort of breed this type of ignorance about women,” Mr. White said.

This ignorance can lead to a disregard for women as humans, thus enabling the brain to justify violent acts without functioning empathy.

As a Jesuit institution, Mr. White said the best thing to have is a zero tolerance policy for sexism, or any disregard of human dignity in any form.

“Really reinforce the dignity of every human, and when someone violates that make sure there is a consequence. If you don’t do that, it can breed this sort of mentality that women are objects that can be controlled,” White said on our duty as both students and staff of Brophy.

As a student in teen culture, Dinowitz recommended being direct when correcting a dehumanizing remark, but avoiding being condescending.

“Say something like ‘Hey dude, what if your mom heard you say that?”

For further reading on brain patterns and psychology in violence, Mr. White recommended the three following studies: Adrian Raine from University of Pennsylvania, Jim Fallon from University of California at Irvine, and Dan Reisel from the University of College at London.