Thursday, December 27, 2012

Violence In General - Out Of The Way

In writing a lengthy Part II and realising I still had not covered my lead-in ground, I decided that I cannot write prologue for days without giving some idea where I am going.  In conversation, I blurt, then go back and explain.  In writing, for no good reason, I like to set the table and make sure the doors and windows are blocked from drafts before serving up.  Ridiculous.

I work with what might be bizarrely called the usual mentally ill, or even the normal mentally ill.  Even when violent, they seem to be different from more famous murderers, the group shooters and serial killers.  They get angry because of some delusion or overwhelming emotional impulse, and threaten to kill a boss, or an ex-girlfriend, a parent - even two parents - or some nameless figures who installed the chip in their head and broadcast hateful things into their brains. But we can understand them in some way.  If we really thought the people down the street were killing babies in the basement, we might also think of stopping them by force. Thoughts of revenge are something we understand, even if we think this particular set of events is exaggerated or even nonexistent.

I do run across patients whose thoughts are so alien to me that I cannot get even that far, and the spectacular killers are at least one step beyond that.  It is a mistake to believe that we can understand their thought processes well enough to say "Well, if only someone had told him this, or given him that, or blocked his way, this never would have happened." It is not so.

Thus, my personal experience, and the literature I am familiar with in terms of violence in the mentally ill, may not apply at all to these folks.  It might only apply to the normal mentally ill, broken in one place but otherwise much like us.  Still, I think it is wise to at least look at the considerable body of data we have about those folks.

An anecdote, about a Q&A at conference about dangerous sex offenders that changed my thinking enormously.  Q: Dr. Loss, do you think that violent pornography has an effect on offenders?  A: Probably yes.  But I'd give an offender a stack of magazines before I let him have one can of beer.

The people who make a living trying to estimate who is more dangerous, who have every reason to ignore prejudices and get it right, because a lot rides on it, identify about a dozen factors that are risk-increasing, and half-a-dozen that are risk decreasing.  Substance abuse, head injury, history of arson or torturing animals - these are the big-ticket items.  Hanging out with other criminals, lack of empathy, multiple paraphilias, impulsivity - those are lesser risk factors.

Playing video games or watching violent movies are nowhere on the list.  I have heard these come up a few times in discussions, and the thinking usually is that well, it must affect them.  It can't be good.  But it's not showing up in the data.

Overall violence is going down.  Perhaps it would be going down even faster were it not for violent games, even though we don't know the mechanism.  But the games are at minimum not overwhelming some positive trend and making the violence go up.


Sam L. said...

Not finding it in the data seems significant, I trust you've looked really hard for it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

With the distinction that I have looked really hard through my conference notes and reading of some experts, who sometimes mention the issue. I have not in any way checked the research myself, and certainly not done any.

This is to hold out the possibility that there is something there, systematically overlooked by the experts who were too busy looking elsewhere. I just doubt that at this point, because it has been mentioned. And one would think (thought that is a dangerous assumption) that it would forcibly occur to them every time something likes this makes the news.