Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The smart children of vengeance

As someone who has been raised in a non-violent environment, I am often surprised how people in some circles easily resort to vengeance and violence while a conciliatory attitude could have resolved "issues" quickly and efficiently. There is certainly a good deal of learned behavior that determines whether you are of a conflicting or conciliatory type, and this learning comes from example, in the family, among peers and in society. Society is important (say, compare Scandinavia to the Balkans) but there are also striking differences within societies. That is where parents may come in.

Ruby Henry studies how the use of retaliation is transmitted to children, first using a model of education effort by parents, and then using UK National Childhood Development Survey. The theoretical prediction is confirmed that high-cognitive parents are better able to transmit their values and override the peer culture, as long as the parents are retaliators. Indeed, if a child is told to retaliate and meet a forgiver, he wins and his values are reinforced. If he is a forgiver and meets a retaliator, he looses and is upset by the teachings of his parents. It the long run, this means that humankind will settle on a retaliating culture. But I do not think this is what we observe. In fact, there are less wars, people abide more to contracts and, I think, respect more the rule of law over time. Correct me if I am wrong.


Tom said...

To play devil's advocate, do you think that there are fewer wars, etc because people fear retaliation?

i.e. Laws are obeyed because the retaliation - the police - are more effective than in the past? Or there is at least the perception that they are more effective?

In any case, forgiver/realiator seems overly dualistic. The phrase 'I think you'll find it's more complicated than that' springs to mind.

Joey said...

I think this is very much in line with what other people are talking about. For example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbiq2-ukfhM

And The Origins of War in Child Abuse by Lloyd deMause http://www.psychohistory.com/

Those two focus on psychology of course, but I think they demonstrate more evidence along these lines.

SamW said...

It would depend upon what you mean by contracts. If you mean documentary contracts - get to know some lawyers. Otherwise, Tom has it right: fear of retaliation. I am hoping the link is active and I can read the paper. And, of course, economists have a real problem with the time concept.

Anonymous said...

Your prediction leaves effect of mobility unaccounted. When forgivers are free to move to where there is more forgivers around, they can form more succesful society than retaliators, who stay and keep on fighting each other.

With mobility accounted, perhaps it would predict that forgivers would gather in places that have some other deterrent, such as cold climate...