Is Violence Contagious?

Ashley Garrity Blog Posts 19 Comments

By: Corine Rosenberg, UM UROP Student

When we think about something being contagious, we usually think about the flu or the common cold—not violence. However a public workshop held by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) this past spring brought in speakers from a wide range of universities and specialties to discuss violence as just that—a contagion.

According to the IOM report, violence can be viewed much like a virus and can indeed be infectious and spread within a community. Witnessing violence or being the victim of violence is the equivalent to being infected. Once infected, a person is then more likely to commit violent acts, either upon others or upon themselves. Violence affects many individuals at all levels of society and is spread not only through interpersonal relationships, but also through neighborhoods, families, cultures, and peer groups.

In Flint, where the crime rate and number of injuries related to violence are high, there are several questions to ask. What makes this community particularly susceptible? Which types of violence are the biggest problems? Where is the contagion spreading from? What can we do to stop the spread and reduce the level of violence?

The six MI-YVPC interventions are designed to reach all levels, from individual to family to community. These interventions are similar to those discussed at the IOM workshop and help to change social norms, break down barriers between groups, and provide positive role models. For example, on an individual level, the Mentoring program provides role models and support for youth who may be exposed to violence. For families, the Fathers and Sons program works to bring families together and teach positive communication and learning skills. Clean and Green helps residents improve the community.  This is just the beginning, and MI-YVPC is only one of many organizations researching violence and working to prevent its spread. Many of MI-YVPC’s partners on the Steering Committee are also working to combat the spread of violence within the community.

Many complex factors contribute to violence, and preventing and ending violence is not a simple task.  By thinking of violence as contagious, and comparing to a biological contagion like a virus, we can start to think about how we can prevent violence at different levels and help stop the spread of violence in the community.

Comments 19

  1. This is very interesting; I have never thought to make a connection between violence and it being a contagion, but it seems pretty true, huh? I like the suggestions about the different levels of programs, but there needs to a system in place to ensure that all programs are communicating with one another so they know what the others are doing and either build upon or incorporate with their own lesson. If a child is hearing different things from different people, he or she won’t know who to listen to. The programs need to ensure that they are working as a collaborative team to achieve their optimum goal.

    It’s scary how normalized violence has become in our society to a point where it’s almost innate. I mean, thinking of history, violence has been the way of how property and mates were handled (thinking about cavemen days). Nowadays with all the exposure through media, it’s one of those things that are considered normal and whether that is true or not, people should still be educated on alternative measures because anything that ends violence doesn’t solve anything and most the time leads to other things.

  2. Violence is definitely infectious. When you think about the Broken-Windows Theory, violence and the downward spiral of a community is attributed to citizens seeing and becoming involved in the deterioration of a community. When no one is actively working to contribute positively to their community by engaging citizens in promoting solidarity within their city, then violence can truly penetrate the area and cause chaos. I commend the work that is being done in Flint to reverse this disbursement of violence among citizens. The six MI-YVPS interventions are truly reaching the core of violence within the community by targeting the socializing patterns of citizens. Familial patterns are cyclical in a way because generations of previous family members influence how younger family members behave within society. If all children see is violence, then that becomes normalized and is not seen as dysfunctional. I once saw a documentary of how dysfunction within a community is often seen as normal, and once the dysfunction is removed, citizens are left feeling uneasy because dysfunction is so engrained into their community. Sometimes, some individuals almost crave dysfunction because it is all they have ever known. However, violence is something that no one should become accustomed to, and there are individuals that do want safer communities which is why I love that this is taking place. This program is a spark of hope that may impact future generations of citizens living in Flint.

  3. Violence is contagious. In a community where violence is high, the youth is prone to infection. Kids learn values and social norms at school and at home. If there is violence at school, the kid is going to think this is normal and how you react to certain situations. If they witness this, it is showing them that violence is normal and accepted, even at schools. If they are the victims of violence it creates hatred in them and they are hurt. They communicate this hate and pain by putting it on someone else. They learned that violence is the answer to problems, so later when they have a problem they will react in the same way. They have anger built up from being the victim and release this anger through violent acts. They feel inferior because somebody beat them up or called them names. In order to feel superior again they must make themselves feel higher than somebody else by putting the other person below them. This goes with the idea of a chain reaction and social learning theory. If they live in a house where violence is common they believe this to be of the norm. They will not talk out their issues or problems, they will lash out in violence to solve the problem, or how they think it’s solved. To stop the violence spread there must be an awareness group in local schools where parents and children attend. There should be authorities watching out at lunchtime or on the playground to stop the violence and punish those involved. This is to teach them that it is not ok to act in this manner. Although, home life cannot be changed unless the parents know that it is wrong and needs change. I like the idea of positive role models introduced in the children’s life. This will have a huge impact on youth.

  4. Violence is a contagion, and before reading this post I would have never thought to classify it as such. Once a person is witness to violence he or she is more likely to commit violent acts, thus spreading the “disease” throughout the community. Just by witnessing violence, that person is infected and will in turn infect their family and friends. Kids are especially susceptible to the cycle of violence because they want to emulate what they see their friends, siblings, or parents doing. If a community wants to stop the spread of violence in their neighborhoods, they need to take steps like the ones taken by Flint. Violence can’t be stopped at one level; programs need to be implemented to combat violence at all levels. I think that other communities can learn a lot from Flint and the programs that they have created. Thinking of violence as a disease can help communities come up with ways that they can fight the disease from infecting their community.

  5. I agree that violence is and can be contagious. Kids growing up see these action movies or paly these violent video games that show and teach them how to use a weapon or be violent. They also may see it at home between their parents or their peers. Once they see that acting and being violent can get you want you want they’ll stop at nothing to achieve these goals. Children are the ones who pick this up the most because they observe everything and take all that’s happening around them and is molding them without anyone knowing. They want to be considered tough, big and mean while getting respect. Programs that work both with parents and children can be effective and change a child’s life of being. It shows that the parents care and are there for their children even if they haven’t been the best son or daughter. Some people believe that programs don’t work but they won’t find out till they try it and see for themselves.

  6. This topic is particularly interesting to me as it reminds me of the Social Learning Theory as coined by Albert Bandura as well as Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory. Basically, those who are exposed to crime have a higher chance of becoming involved in crime themselves. Comparing violence exposure to an illness being contagious is a good analogy to paint the picture of how it expands. When an individual witnesses violent action occurring without legal repercussions, they may believe the actions are acceptable and may go on to mimic these actions. Adolescents are especially vulnerable in these situations as they are highly impressionable.

    Communities that are susceptible to such contagion are those that tend to receive minimal attention by the government which leads to run-down, dirty neighborhoods. If it is obvious a community is not being well taken care of, people are more likely to commit crimes since their chances of being caught are slimmer than those in a well manicured neighborhood.

  7. I agree that children are prone to violence and would become “contagious.” Children who’s life has constant contact with violence, would most likely grow up with the mentality that violence is not a bad thing to do. Since Children constantly mimic what they see in the street and grow attach to that kind of behavior. However, the adults have a major role in this so call “contagious” because we follow the leveling theory. At a early age adults label kids in school because of their actions in school and their academic achievements. Those who get good grades are the good kids and those who do not are the trouble makers. I don’t think society needs to be blamed but those who allow the kids to be exposed to violence. There is saying my mother would always say to other mothers; if you don’t want your kids to be dirty do not put him next to the mud.

  8. I can agree with the author that violence is contagious. I witness it on a daily basis at my job. By working at an after school program at an elementary school i can see different patterns of violence among the children. In particular I have noted that there is one child i my class who is very violent. Once a group of boys begins to hang out with him they begin to act violent just like him. Yet, if the boys are kept away from him then they begin to lose those violent behaviors he had passed on to them. I think in order to get to the root of who is being “contagious” with violence to others one must see who they are around often, if there is violence present at home, and the media they are exposed too. Because not only people can be contagious to others, so can the media. If a child is exposed to violent video games and television they are bound to do as they see. Therefore action should be taken on the first incident of violence to prevent it.

  9. I do agree with this blog post in some ways. I do believe that violence can be contagious in various ways just like a disease. This can happen by influences by peers or even by witnessing high amounts of violence every day. People who hang out with the wrong set of friends end up falling into violence due to peer pressure or wanting to fit in with the group. Additionally, witnessing lots of violence will lead that person to believe that violence is normal and nothing out of the ordinary and may end up committing violent acts as well. I am glad to see that there are programs like the mentoring program which provides role models and support for the youth exposed to crime. If the youth are supplied with alternatives to violence such as these programs then crime prevention might be efficient.

  10. I completely agree with this article. I do believe violence can be viewed much like a virus and can indeed be infectious and spread within a community. Violence is a learned pattern of disordered behavior. If they see individuals from their neighborhoods, families, cultures, and peer groups engage in criminal actively, the likelihood of the individual pursuing the same is great. Criminal behavior is learned, just like any other behavior. It is truly like a virus, once it affects an individual from society, others are at risk to catch the same virus. I am glad the MI-YVPC interventions are implemented because we need to combat the spread of violence within the community. These interventions are effective preventing the spread of crime.

  11. I think that violence can be contagious. It seems as if it is everywhere and many people are acting out violently. People pick up things that they see, just like children. We are absorbing things like sponges.
    Violence can spread within a community. I think that it is like the “broken windows” theory by James Q. Wilson. The theory states that small acts of deviance — littering, graffiti, broken windows — will, if ignored, escalate into more serious crime; could escalate to violent crime. I completely agree that violence affects many individuals, neighborhoods, families, cultures, peer groups, etc.— it affects everyone!
    I like how MI-YVPC offers different programs to help stop the spread of violence. I think we need more programs like these in the communities. The one big factor that stops us from having these programs is the situation with funding. Where do we get the money from? Will it cut back on other important programs to organize this? This is why it is difficult to start such programs.
    Agree one hundred percent, violence is difficult to prevent and end. There are many sources that contribute to violence. However, if we start somewhere to try to prevent it from spreading maybe one day it will not be an issue to deal with.

  12. I can some what agree with what the author is saying .It makes since that people can pass it on to others just by influenceing them and being around them while commiting criminal acts. How can we explain, then, why some of us who have similar exposures show symptoms of the disease by outward displays of violence and some never become violent? People are exposed, but given their unique susceptibility based on their biology, previous exposures, environment, access to care and a variety of other factors, the outcome can be different for different individuals. I can agree that clustors of crime can be evidence towards violecence being a contagion.

  13. Violence can definitely be seen as a contagion. It is seen many times in families where it is like a domino effect and the cycle of abuse continues from generation to generation because that is what was taught and how one was raised. I think it is excellent that there are intervention groups that are trying to make a difference in peoples lives that are affected by violence. The violence could be stemming from something smaller that could easily be resolved if approached in the correct way. Now it is up to those that do seek help to actually learn from it and be willing to take the next step towards “the cure”.

  14. I find this viral interpretation of violence interesting. Until now, I would have looked at the social spread of these outbursts as products of social learning, conforming to one’s peers, or the reaction to strain due to one’s situation. For a place such as Flint in recent years, violence seems to have always been there, and therefore self-reciprocating. Hopefully the programs MI-YVPC are hosting are effective and diminish the prevalence of violence in the community by teaching both current and future generations what real social norms are. On a larger scale as the post notes, I’d like to know what makes certain areas more prone to spread violence like wildfire.

  15. The analogy between violence and an infectious disease is very effective for several reasons. First, while the socialization process instills values and norms within an individual, once a spark of violence or delinquency is displayed an individual, he or she is definitely more susceptible to repeat occurrences. In certain environments where violence has become viral, programs such as mentorship, family functions, and community improvement are absolutely necessary to act as an antidote to the violent virus. Hopefully, through the implementation of the aforementioned programs the city of Flint would be able to mitigate violent tendencies. There is surely no universal cure to correct a corrupt environment or to alleviate strain, but there are definitely methods to alleviate the intensity. Citizens of Flint should take advantage of these programs and petition for additional resources to aid their effort in eliminating the virus and leading them towards conventional norms.

  16. Through child development studies and personal experiences I have been convinced that violence is definitely contagious. It has been known that children imitate and mimic everything they see and hear, and it’s especially behaviors they see within their families, but does also include everything that surrounds them. This also applies to juveniles and people in general, but the main focus is on younger children and youth who are exposed to media violence since they are most at risk for later aggression. Playing with video games has also proven to be harmful more harmful than watching violent videos or shows.

  17. For violent acts that can be criminal I think it surely can be contagious. However, I would not go as far as saying that video games and/or violent films help spread violence. Violent video games and movies are played by all kinds of children, from all over the country, and coming from many different types of households. The majority of children do not commit violent acts that go farther than quarreling with friends or siblings. Many children who play violent games or watch violent movies are well behaved at home and at school, and go on to be successful. On the other hand, growing up in a violent community like Flint can make the violence contagious. A child learns that violence is the way to go and that violence is normal. I think violence is contagious as long as it is part of the culture a child is raised in. If they grow up in violent communities or households the violence can be contagious, but it is a stretch to say that violent movies, video games, or even music, can spread violence to the extent that it drowns out the non violent culture they were raised in.

  18. I think that the “contagious” aspect of the violence relates to our fight or flight mechanism. Once we have witnessed a traumatic event, how we were raised and the environment we were raised in determines our reaction. For those raised in maybe a violence prone less than wealthy neighborhood, the norm is to exceed what you say in order to establish yourself as more of an alpha type, and also to deter possible acts of violence against yourself. Therefore, especially in young men or boys, we are encouraged to be as rough and tough as we can in a masculine sense. Depending on the ethics and behavior patterns instilled on us, some act on it violently and others use it only when appropriate. The key is to raise our children correctly to a point where they are monitored and brought up with responsible viewpoints. The more opportunity to be pressured by friends or society into committing act in violence, the less chance there is to be a proper citizen. Just like the correct medicine can get rid of a disease, proper parenting can go far to make our streets and communities safer and stop the spread of violence.

  19. I think its a great way to represent the definition of violence in Michigan. When exposed to so much violence you become used to it and it become a part of your lifestyle. These kids conform to this norm because this is what they grew up with and are used to. The social strains in their environments lead them to commit crimes. They want to be socially excepted. In my point of view if your not committing the crime then the crime will be committed against you. Because crime isn’t usually punished in Michigan they get away with it and eventually just spreads and spreads like a “contagious virus”.