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See Inside December 2006/January 2007

The Violent Brain

Violent behavior never erupts from a single cause. Rather it appears to result from a complex web of related factors, some genetic and others environmental
Anatomy of Aggression



SIGANIM Gehirn & Geist

On September 13, 2006, Kimveer Gill walked into the cafeteria at Dawson College in Montreal and, without apparent motive, shot 21 people, injuring 19 and killing two, including himself. The same day a judge in West Virginia sent a woman to jail for, among other atrocities, forcing her six children and stepchildren to gorge themselves on food and then eat their own vomit. Also on the 13th, a court in New York sentenced a man for killing his girlfriend by setting her on fire--in front of her 10-year-old son. There was nothing special about that Wednesday. From around the world we hear reports of murder, manslaughter, cruelty and abuse every day. Violence is ubiquitous.

But what drives one person to kill, maim or abuse another, sometimes for little or no obvious reason--and why do so many violent offenders return to crime after serving time in prison? Are these individuals incapable of any other behavior? We have evaluated the results of studies conducted around the world, focusing on acts ranging from fistfights to murder, in search of the psychobiological roots of violence. Our key conclusion is simple: violent behavior never erupts from a single cause. Rather it results from a combination of risk factors--among them inherited tendencies, a traumatic childhood and other negative experiences--that interact and aggravate one another. This realization has a silver lining: positive influences may be able to offset some of those factors that promote violence, possibly offering hope for prevention.

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