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Causes of Violence - and other blights on lives

Although there are many and complex causes of violence and other blights on lives, we have identified two components which are basic to a violent act. These are:

  1. The Propensity to be Violent
  2. The Trigger to a violent act

The Propensity to be Violent is a personal factor - that is to say, it resides within the individual committing the act.

The Trigger is a social factor, which resides outside the individual committing the act.

Some examples of triggers (there are dozens of potential triggers) are:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Violence in the media
  • Overcrowding
  • A person being disrespected

However it is our experience that, with few exceptions, triggers lead to violence only when the propensity to be violent also exists.

Thus most people may get drunk without becoming violent, but some can  become lethally dangerous when drunk. Most people watch violent media without this triggering violent behaviour, but research shows that when someone brought up in a violent household watches violent media they are more likely to act violently – because they have the propensity.

A major factor in the development of the propensity to be violent is a lack of empathy. Empathy is a powerful antidote to violence.

Babies are born with the capacity for empathy. However, whether this quality develops or not to become part of their make-up depends on what they learn from observing adult reactions to the pain or suffering of others.

Therefore, ensuring babies are cared for in a sensitive, nurturing way that develops empathy would be a huge contribution to preventing violence. Lack of empathy is a major cause of propensity to be violent.

During WAVE’s years of research we have discovered that the same conditions that lead to violence and antisocial behaviour also lead to many other blights on lives including poor mental and physical health, all sorts of addictions, low educational and employment achievements, welfare dependency, poverty and homelessness.

Find out what we can do about it.

To read about this in more detail, you can read Section 3 of our report Violence and what to do about it, or follow the link in our Publications section to read our joint Department for Education/WAVE Trust report Conception to age 2 - the age of opportunity for an understanding of the crucial importance of the earliest months and years of life.