Impulsive Violence, Executive Control, Locus of Control

Mob violence is generally impulsive — a crime of opportunity. There is safety in numbers, and one is less likely to be caught and punished if he participates in a mass crime.

Small groups and individuals can commit impulsive acts of violence as easily as can mobs — if the individuals are primed to commit such acts.

Particular alleles of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene have been known to be associated with impulsive violence for several years — providing one important link between genetics and violence.

In a most interesting paper (PDF) published in PNAS, a team of researchers from Austria, Italy and USA headed by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg have uncovered neurobiological factors that contribute significantly to violence in humans. The team studied the normal allelic variation in the X-linked monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene, a gene that has also been shown to be associated with impulsive aggression in humans and animals. ______from a 2006 post on Brain Ethics blog

We have seen in previous postings here how the MAOA 2R allele is more strongly correlated to impulsive violence and sociopathy than the MAOA 3R allele — although the 3R allele does have such a link to violent behaviour. Blacks have ten times the prevalence of the MAOA 2R allele as whites, and roughly twice the prevalence of the 3R allele.

In most populations, impulses toward violent behaviour are modulated by the prefrontal cortex executive functions. But if the prefrontal executive functions are impaired, there are fewer internal obstacles to impulsive violence in the individual.

The components of executive function (as determined through previous latent variable analyses) can be loosely described as inhibition (the ability to resist habit), updating (the ability to quickly change the focus of attention or the contents of working memory), and shifting (the ability to quickly change goals and respond appropriately).

…the overall picture is that executive functions, in both their unity and diversity, are somewhere between 86 to 100% heritable. __Executive Function up to 99% Heritable

This high level of heritability of executive function is similar to the high level of heritability of IQ — up to 80% in adults. A person’s intelligence, and his ability to foresee unfortunate consequences to impulsive behaviour, is another internal obstacle to impulsive violence. But if a person loses the genetic lottery for both IQ and executive function (EF), he may find it difficult to stop himself from acting out violent impulses. If large numbers of persons who are genetically predisposed toward violent impulsivity also struggle with deficiencies of both executive function and IQ, the host society has a significant problem to be faced.

Yet another internal process that influences one’s tendency to violent impulsivity is the concept of “locus of control.” Locus of control refers to whether the person believes his life is being controlled by outside forces, or whether he believes that he himself is in control of his life and his fortunes.

A person with an “external” locus of control is likely to blame outsiders for his problems, and to feel helpless to do anything about them on his own. If he sees an opportunity to violently punish someone who he blames for his problems, he is more likely to act out his violent revenge impulses.

Many things can influence a person’s locus of control, including his early family life.

The research of Schneewind (1995; cited in Schultz & Schultz, 2005) suggests that “children in large single parent families headed by women are more likely to develop an external locus of control” (Schultz & Schultz,2005, p439). Schultz and Schultz also point out that children who develop an internal locus tend to come from families where parents have been supportive and consistent in self-discipline. There has been some ambiguity about whether parental locus of control influences a children’s locus of control, although at least one study has found that children are more likely to attribute their successes and failures to unknown causes if their parents had an external locus of control (see the first of the external links listed below).

As children grow older, they gain skills that give them more control over their environment. In support of this, psychological research has found that older children have more internal locus of control than younger children. Findings from early studies on the familial origins of locus of control were summarised by Lefcourt: “Warmth, supportiveness and parental encouragement seem to be essential for development of an internal locus”

In the black American community, roughly 72% of children are born illegitimate, without fathers. These children are less likely to gain many of the skills that might have given them more control over their environment.

American blacks on average score significantly lower on IQ tests, are more impulsive, and display a wide range of behaviours consistent with lower than average prefrontal executive function. These are all highly heritable attributes, as is the MAOA L (along with a range of other neurotransmitter related allele variants) predisposition to impulsive violence and sociopathy.

Locus of control is highly influenced by environment — such as households headed by single mothers — but is also likely to be strongly influenced by genetic factors.

This is an environmental and genetic legacy which predisposes to the type of impulsive violence seen in the video above.

Before a problem can be solved, it must first be acknowledged, faced honestly, and understood as well as possible. We are still in that preliminary stage of needing to acknowledge the problem, as a society.

Thousands of lives are likely to be lost before the problem is finally acknowledged. If the acknowledging of the problem is put off for too long, the final butcher’s bill is likely to be much higher.

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2 Responses to Impulsive Violence, Executive Control, Locus of Control

  1. Musson says:

    I am surprised that you believe that society would acknowledge a problem just because
    a few thousand lives are lost. I think you vastly underestimate ability of society to ignore

  2. alfin2101 says:

    The public eye is largely controlled by mass media, government propaganda, and educational system propaganda. The voice of small internet sites and social media may never attain the level of influence wielded by the big boys.

    But people can be clever. Using lateral thinking skills one might discover a weakness in the Death Star.

    If “the eye of Sauron” is directed away from the slopes of Mt. Doom, the dark lord may fail to detect the threat to his power.


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