Back to XIV Abstract Summary

Plenary Lectures


Adams, David
International Year for the Culture of Peace, Bureau of Programming and Evaluation, UNESCO 

The Seville Statement on Violence, signed in 1986, was born out of discussions that took place at ISRA in 1980.  It stated a negative case - that it is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by inherited tendencies, genetic programs, brain mechanisms or “instincts”. The Statement did not attempt to make a positive case and identify the cultural factors that lead to war. It is therefore proposed that investigations concerning these cultural factors could be seen as a priority for the International Society for Research on Aggression.  Investigations could be carried out within the framework of United Nations resolutions concerning the need for a transition from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace.  These resolutions have identified a number of cultural areas where action - and, therefore, research - need to be carried out.  They include: education for a culture of peace; sustainable economic and social development; respect for all human rights; equality between women and men; democratic participation; understanding, tolerance and solidarity; participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge and international peace and security, including disarmament and economic conversion. Each of these areas will be considered in turn. What is its importance for to a culture of war and violence and a culture of peace and non-violence?  What kind of scientific studies have been done and could be envisaged for the future?


Koolhaas, Jaap M.
Department of Animal Physiology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

While most animal studies of aggression concern aggressive behavior as a functional and adaptive behavior, studies in humans often focus on impulsive aggression and violence as maladaptive forms of aggressive behavior. Violence can be defined as a form of aggressive behavior that lacks its social communicative function. Little is known about the factors involved in the change from adaptive aggression into violence. A number of animal experiments will be discussed aimed at the interaction between individual predisposition and previous social experience in the development of violence. Ecological studies in feral populations of mice and birds show a functional bimodal distribution of high and low aggressive phenotypes. Subsequent field- and laboratory studies indicate that these phenotypes differ more generally in their response to any environmental challenge. This has led to the view that high and low individual levels of aggressive behavior reflect a proactive coping style or a reactive coping style respectively. The proactive coping style is characterised by a reduced dependence of environmental stimuli, i.e. they tend to develop routines. This capacity to develop routines seems to be the underlying factor in the development of violence. For example, an extensive sequential analysis of the pre-attack behavior of two interacting males shows that the aggressive behavior of the proactive animal becomes more and more independent of the opponent after repeated winning. Experienced, highly aggressive males no longer respond to social signals from the opponent and a reduced behavioral plasticity, leading to a violent form of aggression. There are a number of neurobiological and neuroendocrine correlates of the violent prone proactive coping style. The proactive animal is characterised by a high sympathetic reactivity, a strong negative relation between social experience and dependence of plasma testosterone, and low serotonergic transmission as a trait characteristic. It will be argued that understanding the behavioral and physiological mechanisms underlying the individual differentiation in behavioral plasticity contributes to a further understanding of the factors involved in the transition of aggression into violence and the capacity to cope with changes in the social environment. 

PL-3.--Biochemical and molecular genetic factors in habitual violence and antisocial alcoholism: control and preventive interventions.  

Virkkunen, Matti
Department of Psychiatry, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

Serotonin has been found to be in central place in impulsive and habitual violent tendencies and personality disorders. Low brain serotonin turnover (CSF 5HIAA) together with glucose metabolism aspects in the shorter and together with low noradrenaline turnover (CSF MHPG)  in the longer follow up have in biological factors been able to predict further violences among   prisoners with antisocial personality disorder (ASP). ASP offenders make even 80 per cent of all habitual violence. There are preliminary molecular genetic findings in sibpair linkage analysis of serotonin 1 B receptor gene in chromosome 6 or area near it being the genetic base in antisocial alcoholism (ASP and type 2 alcoholism connected with it). This suits to this serotonin receptor, alcohol and aggression studies among laboratory animals.  Treatments with medicines and dietary means in violent tendencies are in a very preliminary phase. There are, however, findings that at least serotonin uptake inhibitor, fluoxetin, lithium carbonate, beta adrenergic blockers and atypical neuroleptic, clozapine can be effective in violence. The most interesting class of medicines possibly coming to the picture is serotonin 1B agonists also because of the new molecular genetic findings.  It is possible that also by changing nonesterified fatty acids in the diet and especially omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n3) we can get results in impulsive habitually violent tendencies and even in the ASP. This fatty acid has been found to correlate with CSF 5HIAA among adult violent offenders and early onset alcoholics. Maternal smoking during pregnancy is connected with conduct disorder problems of the child which is often known to continue to ASP in the adulthood. So this also makes an important means of prevention but the exact biological mechanism is unclear. In the future treatment and preventive studies it is important to understand the normal progress in ASP and why the disorder diminishes often in the middle age and what are the brain transmitter and metabolic changes connected with it. 

PL-4. - Physical aggression in the family: prevalence rates, primary prevention, and implications for reducing societal violence

Straus, Murray A.
Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, USA.

Part I describes how much physical aggression occurs between family members.  It presents prevalence rates for intra-family physical assaults based on data from nationally representative samples of families in the USA and other countries.  This includes separate rates for physical assault in the following types of family relationships: husband-to-wife, wife-to-husband, parent-to-child, child-to-parent, and between siblings.  For each of these, there are rates for both minor and severe assaults.  For example, the US National Family Violence Surveys have found 94% of parents of children age 4 reported hitting the child in the previous 12 months, and 12% of husbands and 12% of wives reported hitting their partner in the past 12 months.   Part II is about the effects corporal punishment by parents on children's physical aggression and antisocial behavior.  Corporal punishment is defined as the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child's behavior.  The focus is on research to test the hypothesis that corporal punishment by parents increases the probability that a child will subsequently be physically aggressive.  It is based on results from several recent prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies.  These studies found that, after controlling for many other variables, corporal punishment explains a significant part of the variance in each of the types of family violence described in Part I, and also variance in non-family assault.  Part III argues that, because corporal punishment is a risk factor for subsequent physical aggression, and because corporal punishment is among the earliest life experiences of children and is usually a child's first experience of violence (over a third experience it before age 1 in the USA), it can be said that the family is the cradle of violence in the society.  Consequently, primary prevention of disapproved forms of family violence such as wife-beating and physical abuse of children, and also primary prevention of physical aggression outside the family, needs to involve ending the socially approved form of family violence in the form of corporal punishment.


Hinde, Robert A.
St John´s College, University of Cambridge, UK

After World War 2, there were hopes that wars would become much less frequent. Sadly, that was not to be - though the wars currently in progress are mostly of a very different kind, occurring within states and of a type for which the UN was not designed. The talk will address two questions. First, what are the bases of these wars at the societal level. Do the causes lie in ethnicity, religion, environmental issues, poverty, greed, or what? Second, what are the incentives for those who fight? war is dangerous and destructive -- what induces individuals to take part? In attempting to answer that question, it is useful to think in terms of a continuum from conflicts in which individual aggressiveness predominates to those in which war is best thought of in institutional terms. The important driving forces for individuals vary according to the type of conflict. In aggression between individuals, individual aggressiveness is crucial. In conflicts between groups, group loyalty augments and exarcebates individual aggressiveness. Factors making for group coherence are ubiquitous in humans, and often lead to the denigration of out-groups. The psychological processes involved are important in all types of war. In those cases in which the institutional aspects predominate, individuals see it as their duty to participate - and this includes not only the combatants but also the munition workers and so on. To reduce the incidence of that sort of conflict, it is necessary to undermine the institution, and for that purpose the forces that support it must be identified. They fall into three categories -- everyday factors, such as the metaphors we use in ordinary speech, and the way history is taught in schools; medium-term factors, such as religion, ethnicity, nationalism and so on; and thirdly the military-industrial-scientific complex, itself consisting of a hierarchy of sub institutions. The role of education in reducing the incidence of war in the long run will be emphasized.


Roth, Kenneth
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch

The human rights movement seeks to defend human rights and curtail violence abuse. In countries with mature legal systems and the rule of law, victims of human rights abuse can look to the courts for enforcement. But in most countries where organizations like Human Rights Watch work, the courts are too weak or compromised to rein in official abuse. In such circumstances, the human rights movement employs a variety of techniques to exert pressure on authorities to respect human rights. These include public shaming, diplomatic appeals, withholding or conditioning certain forms of economic assistance, depriving abusive forces of arms, and threatening violent officials with the possibility of international prosecution. Critical to the successful employment of these techniques is the collection of reliable and accurate information about human rights abuses. This information is then deployed to create a sense of outrage on the part of the relevant public and to spur powerful governments and institutions to use their influence to curb abuses. Governmental conduct in the human rights realm is measured against legal standards that are codified in a series of binding treaties. But in the "pre-legal" environment in which the human rights movement often must work, the power of exposing abuses lies less in the revealed violation of legal standards than in a contrast with popular moral judgments. Reinforcing a sense of moral outrage in the face of human rights abuse is thus a major priority. The task is most difficult when governments claim to act in the name of religious or cultural tradition. Partnerships between local and international human rights organizations can be particularly effective in such circumstances. Other contemporary challenges facing the human rights movement include promoting accountability for violent abuses without creating an incentive for tyrants to cling to power; exerting economic pressure on abusive governments at a time when government-to-government assistance often pales in comparison with private investment; exerting influence when abuses are committed armed factions in failed states rather than formal governments; and convincing the international community to deploy military force in the most extreme cases when it is the sole feasible option to stop genocide or comparable crimes against humanity.


Campbell, Jacquelyn C.
Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Baltimore, USA.

Women who have experienced sexual and/or physical violence have been found to have significantly compromised physical and mental health.  Controlled research from the US and other countries has shown an increased risk for injury, chronic pain, gynecological problems, chronic irritable bowel syndrome and a compromised immune system from both childhood and adult physical and sexual assault, particularly family violence (child and wife abuse).  Abused women also have an increased risk for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Reproductive health problems related to intimate partner violence include increased unintended pregnancy, adolescent pregnancy, abuse during pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infection, and lowered birthweight in infants.  Because of the high rates of trauma history and significant health effects, North American health care systems are beginning to screen for intimate partner violence and sexual assault routinely in health care systems and provide interventions for abused women.  The majority of women in US emergency departments and managed care health settings say they approve of routine screening for intimate partner violence in health care settings.  Screening can be achieved with a brief 4 question Abuse Assessment Screen which has been tested in many health care settings. Questions regarding the woman’s health need to include issues around intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and address lethality assessment issues.  The Danger Assessment is one tool that is used to assess the dangerousness of the woman’s situation. Documentation of the injuries should include photographs, a body map for injury history, and other written documentation that can be used for court proceedings.  When abuse is identified, appropriate interventions need to be used.  These include principles of empowerment, referrals to shelters or other domestic violence resources, safety planning, and long-term follow up by the health care giver.  A brief health care intervention has been shown to increase women’s use of safety behaviors and decrease their experience of both physical and emotional violence from a partner.  Other health care policy suggestions include addressing violence in prenatal and post-partum care, mental health care settings, and in HIV prevention programs.