Ah, the old nature versus nurture conundrum rears its head again. I would think, especially among people with a psychology background, that most would agree that it is some combination of innate factors and learned behavior that causes certain people to be violent. Where I got my bachelor’s degree, the head of the psychology department was a pretty hard-core Skinnerian behaviorist, but he did not mind allowing some of our more humanist professors to have their say. Unfortunately, I know a number of people, many of whom have greater degrees than I, who say that all behavior is learned and that genetic factors play little, if any, role in who we all end up being. To them I say, don’t be so sure of yourselves.
And though I have humanist leanings in the area of human behavior, I am the first to admit that a good percentage of who we are, what we become and what we do with ourselves are a matter of learned behavior. But, to say that it is 100% true, 100% of the time is to negate genetic factors unfairly and that could be a mistake. Let me use physical health as an example. Personally, I would rather come from a family with little or no history of cancer and smoke and do all the wrong things than do all the right things (don’t smoke, eat healthy, etc.) but come from a family where cancer is quite prevalent. Now, does that mean that if you come from a family with lots of cancer, historically, that you will get cancer? Of course not. Does that mean that coming from a family with no cancer history means it’s okay to smoke? Of course not. We still end up as a function of our behaviors, but a genetic predisposition does exist. No one can deny that.
So, how does any of this relate to violent (or any) behavior? Simple. I would say that, to some (probably small) degree, there is some genetic factor to being violent. That would mean that there is some genetic predisposition to violence. Now, of course (as stated in the physical comparison) a predisposition to some behavior does not necessarily mean a life doomed to such behavior. Most psychologists will tell you that violent behaviors run in families. Most behaviorists will tell you, yes, that’s true, but it is still a matter of learned behavior. If you see dad beating mom all your life, you are more likely to grow up thinking physical violence is okay and probably continue the pattern. And, I think that’s probably true. But, just because that’s true doesn’t mean that there is not some degree of innateness to the learned behavior. Again, it’s probably some combination of factors.
Violent behavior: Born or raised? Almost certainly, for the most part, violent behavior is a learned behavior. But, to discount genetics would be a mistake. Like almost all behaviors, violent behavior is probably some combination of innate factors and learned behavior.