What Do Scientists Say About Preventing Violence: Part II US Scientists Statements
Two statements were issued by US scientists who are experts on violence in response to the Sandy Hook shootings. The second statement is remarkably predictive of what we have now learned about the Sandy Hook shooter.
This statement has been endorsed by more than 100 professional organizations representing over 4 million professionals including the American Federation of Teachers, multiple divisions of the American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), National Education Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, and Mental Health America. In addition, more than a hundred nationally recognized researchers and practitioners have endorsed this statement including deans of several major university colleges of education and social work. hundreds of US violence experts including school violence prevention researchers, practitioners and research organizations offered a number of suggestions in wake of the Connecticut Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy.
The statement made a number of important points. First
“Children are safer in schools than in almost any other place, including for some, their own homes.”
“From the standpoint of prevention, what matters more is the motivation behind a shooting. It is too soon to draw conclusions about this case, but in every mass shooting we must consider two keys to prevention: (1) the presence of severe mental illness and/or (2) an intense interpersonal conflict that the person could not resolve or tolerate.”
“Inclinations to intensify security in schools should be reconsidered. … Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot.”
“We need resources such as mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. For communities, this speaks to a need for increased access to well integrated service structures across mental health, law enforcement, and related agencies. We must encourage people to seek help when they see that someone is embroiled in an intense, persistent conflict or is deeply troubled.”
Balance – Communication – Connectedness – Support
“shootings have occurred in schools with strict security measures already in place. A balanced approach to preventing violence and protecting students includes a variety of efforts addressing physical safety, educational practices, and programs that support the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students.”
“Communication is critical. Comprehensive analyses by the U. S. Secret Service, the FBI, and numerous researchers have concluded that the most effective way to prevent many acts of violence targeted at schools is by maintaining close communication and trust with students and others in the community, so that threats will be reported and can be investigated by responsible authorities. Attempts to detect imminently violent individuals based on profiles or checklists of characteristics are ineffective and are most likely to result in false identification of innocent students or other individuals as being dangerous when they actually pose little or no threat. Instead, school authorities should concentrate their efforts on improving communication and training a team of staff members to use principles of threat assessment to take reasonable steps to resolve the problems and conflicts revealed through a threat investigation.”
“Concerned students, parents, educators, and stakeholders in the community should attend to troubling behaviors that signal something is amiss. For example, if a person utters threats to engage in a violent act or displays a pronounced change of mood and related social behavior, or is engaged in a severe conflict with family members or coworkers, it makes sense to communicate concerns to others who might provide assistance. Early identification is important not only to prevent violence, but to provide troubled individuals the support, treatment, and help they need.”
“Connectedness refers to what binds us together as families, friends, and communities. All students need to feel that they belong at their school and that others care for them. Similarly, local neighborhoods and communities are better and safer places when neighbors look out for one another, are involved in community activities, and care about the welfare of each other. Research indicates that those students most at risk for delinquency and violence are often those who are most alienated from the school community. Schools need to reach out to build positive connections to marginalized students, showing concern, and fostering avenues of meaningful involvement.”
“Support is critical for effective prevention. Many students and family members experience life stresses and difficulties. Depression, anxiety, bullying, incivility, and various forms of conflict need to be taken seriously. Every school should create environments where students and adults feel emotionally safe and have the capacity to support one another. "
Mental Health, Integrated Threat Assessment, Media Effects, and Access to Guns
“Nationally, the mental health needs of youth and adults are often short changed or neglected. That needs to change. Using much-needed federal and state funding, community-based mental health organizations should work in cooperation with local law enforcement, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment. These efforts should promote wellness as well as address mental health needs of all community members while simultaneously responding to potential threats to community safety. This initiative should include a large scale public education and awareness campaign, along with newly created channels of communication to help get services to those in need.”
“Research has established that continued exposure to media violence (e.g., TV, movies, video games) can increase the likelihood of physically and verbally aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions. Exposure to violence in the media can lead to (1) displacement of healthy activities, (2) modeling inappropriate behaviors, (3) disinhibition of socially proscribed behaviors, (4) desensitization to the harmful effects of violence, (5) aggressive arousal, and (6) association with a constellation of risk-taking behaviors. Taken together, this research speaks to a strong need to revise policies on youth exposure to violence in the media.”
“Multiple lines of research have demonstrated a clear connection between local availability of guns and gun-related violent behaviors, with estimates of close to 2 million children and adolescents having access at home to loaded, unlocked guns. Although guns are never the simple cause of a violent act, the availability of lethal weapons including assault type weapons to youth and adults with emotional disturbance and antisocial behavior poses a serious public health problem.”
The position statement and a complete list of organizations endorsing it is posted at:
Rowell Huesmann and Eric Dubow
Aggression Research Program, Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan
The School Shootings in Connecticut December 17 excerpts
“To most people, the perpetrators of these recent shootings, including the Connecticut school shootings, look somewhat unbalanced or weird. The few who have survived also seem to act psychologically disturbed. Some have histories of psychological treatment. We hear rumors that the shooter is a loner, or unpopular and teased or bullied by peers, or in the Connecticut case suffering from Asperger’s Disorder. However, the world is full of “weird” looking and “weird” acting people who never act violently.”
“Most murders are committed by people with a previous history of violence who are filled with such blinding rage that they lose self-control and act in a manic rage. However, a subset of lethal violent acts is committed by people who experience almost no emotion and don’t get angry. Such callous and unemotional people just don’t feel anything including any empathy. In the extreme we call such people psychopaths. However, again, many people experience intense rage and don’t kill, and many people are not empathic and feel little emotions but also never kill. Still, it is clear that for various reasons, many individuals with these kinds of psychological abnormalities do not receive any psychological treatment, and over time without treatment, as situational pressures on the person mount, the risk of violent outbursts increases.”
“Guns, and particularly semi-automatic or automatic guns, make killing quicker and more efficient. As psychologists, however, we think it is equally important that guns provide distance between the perpetrator and the victim. Just as it is easier to act aggressively when you are hidden inside a car, it is easier to commit a violent act on innocent individuals from a distance. It is easier to avoid experiencing any empathy and to be psychologically remote from a victim when one is physically remote.”
“One way to think about these things that makes some scientific sense is that the perpetrator was following a script for doing these kinds of things. The script is not the motivating force behind the behavior, but we know that social scripts for behavior can take over and gain a life of their own. How do you commit a horrible act of violence against society? The models in the mass media are numerous. Put on an appropriate uniform (be it a trench coat, a costume from a movie, or a military uniform) that is associated with shooting. This allows the perpetrator to identify more closely with other remembered shooters and enhances the perpetrator’s ‘deindividuation’ which in turn lowers his sense of personal responsibility. Then gather up a bunch of guns of the kinds people use when they do these things; go to a place where there are a lot of people gathered; kill as many as possible; then kill yourself. "
“How do the damaged people who become mass shooters acquire such scripts and beliefs? That is pretty clear to every developmental psychologist. Youth first acquire most social scripts by imitating what they see others doing. Imitation is the great teacher of social behavior. Punishments and reinforcements change youths’ use of various scripts, but imitation is the powerful force that first gives the ideas of most social scripts to youth. They imitate what they have seen time and again among their peers, in their family, on the news or in the mass media. We don’t know if the Connecticut shooter was fond of violent movies and TV or played violent video games. But no youth in America can grow up today without repeated exposures to fictional video stories and real news video stories similar to what happened in Connecticut.”
“For most youth the behavioral scripts suggested by these awful events are rejected. However, the reason why so many of these shootings follow a common script is because they are not rejected but rather adapted by some individuals who are psychologically damaged. Unfortunately, this means that we are going to see this script carried out again before too long. Efforts to reduce the likelihood of these events must address the availability of guns and stepping up long-term and coordinated school-based and community-based mental health services. But equally importantly we must strive to find ways, without trampling on the right of free artistic expression, to reduce youth exposure to violence in life and in the mass media. Violence is a contagious disease, particularly for youth. The more they are exposed to it, the more likely they are to catch it. Unfortunately, unlike most other diseases, susceptible youth don’t need to be close to violence in order to catch it. They only need to see and hear about it over and over again.”
Bullying or being bullied is a risk factor for violence. In the video above, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett reviews the current administration’s efforts and experts discuss their initial efforts to better understand the problem. The video focuses on child on child bullying. Children being bullied by adults, adults bullying other adults and a generally aggressive and violent culture are other important aspects of the problem. The repeal of laws to protect those being bullied at school and the workplace and a generally lack of accountability for those in power including parents, school administrators, employers and sellers contributes to the problem of aggression in our society.
In the first statement, it said
“Every school should create environments where students and adults feel emotionally safe and have the capacity to support one another.”
That’s also true for our society. Michael Moore, who made a film about the Columbine Massacre, supports control measures but also argues that part of the problem cannot be addressed by a ban on assault weapons. Rather, our culture must become supportive and proactive in its willingness to look out for one another. As noted previously, another aspect of recent mass murderers is that people noticed that mass murderers were troubled but had no where to turn for help( see table at the end of the article.
Dr. Craig Anderson, an authority on video games and violence has many additional resources on his website.
by Todd Miller
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