After listening to these interview from a couple weeks ago about John Fallon and his family history, you m might be convinced that violence is a product of the brain and genetics. But, other psychologists have found that aggression, violence, and other bad behaviors are something that people who are otherwise normal can engage in if they are appropriately influenced…this is the pure psychology of violence (as you will see from these two fascinating experiments).

The Milgram Experiment (Obedience):
The Zimbardo Prison Study (Quiet Rage):

The videos I assigned you to watch were selected for a few reasons. They bridge the gap between the biological causes of violence and the psychological causes. The brain is a biological thing (like a computer hardware) but thoughts are not; think of your thoughts and feelings as software.

Many biological causes seem to cause behavior uncontrollably (i.e., people are violent because its in their nature or their biology compels them to behave violently for no apparent reason). Meanwhile, psychological causes seem to engender violence because it changes the way that people respond to things or interpret things.

The milligram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment both show how the power of a situation can make regular people engage in bad behavior. On the other hand, the interviews with Dr. Fallon (from last week) showed how genetics can set the stage for violence but not compel someone to be violent (Fallon did not after all, become a serial killer…he became a neuroscientist).

Q1: What is more important in determining whether someone will be violent in a given situation, their biology? Their psychological make-up? The influence of others or some combination?

Q2: Is there a difference between being a violent person or having a violent moment? What is the difference?

Q3: What do the research subjects in the Stanford experiment and the Milgram study have in common with each other? How is this related to aggression?