Behavioral Contagion: The Spread Of Bad Behavior Patterns That Damage Society


The following blog was written by me 4/9/10. What follows is the product of to other  revisions.

Behavioral Contagion: The Spread Of Bad Behavior Patterns That Damage Society

There are many behavior patterns that are very destructive to our families and to our society.

 Formally diagnosed psychological disorders do not cover all of the common self-defeating and culturally damaging forms of human behavior that exist.

For example suicide is not a diagnostic category, though many who commit suicide  have some diagnosable condition (schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and/or anxiety, etc.), that may or may not have been diagnosed by a professional. Also, a significant number of suicides are committed by individuals who did not meet the full criteria for any psychological disorder.

Many other behavioral problems do not get diagnosed, or they may not have fully met the criteria for a formal diagnosis. However, these behavior patterns can still be very damaging to the husbands, wives, children and other people (even strangers) involved. 

Examples of these behaviorally contagious problems are bad or even abusive marriages, hateful divorces (especially when children are involved), abandonment of children, neglectful or abusive child care, drug and alcohol abuse, refusal to work, excessive risk-taking, self-injurious behavior, aggressive driving, verbal abuse of others, gang membership activities and alcohol or drug abuse. 

Also, highly damaging to our socioculture is a wide range of illegal and antisocial practices such as violent crimes including murder, unsafe and unethical sex, rape (whether a stranger, date, or an acquaintance), etc.. There are other common behavior problems that set the stage for a cascade of other social and behavioral problems who’s stressful effects spread (contage) well beyond the individual with the primary problem, such as pregnancy out-of-wedlock, teenage pregnancy, truancy from school, bullying, school dropouts, teen runaways, and homelessness, to name  only a few.

All of  these problem behaviors can increase  in rates of occurrence through numerous mechanisms of biopsychosocial behavioral contagion.

Such behavior problems, and more not mentioned, are self-defeating and damaging to those who do them, and often to other individuals who are somehow involved. As increasing proportions of a population are stressed and damaged by bad behavioral contagion, the cumulative, interacting and multiplying bad behavioral contagion effects inflict a damaging influence upon the socioculture at-large. Without powerful cultural redesigns, this process can easily become a vicious self-feeding cycle that accelerates a culture’s decline.

The damages that increasing patterns of the aforementioned interacting bad behaviors can do within a population are easily overlooked. At the surface these troubles will seem like separate problems within education, law enforcement, the judicial system, health care, welfare programs,  and government, etc., when in fact they are all connected. Categories of bad behavior contagion form a mass of positive feedback loops that stimulate increasing rates of occurrence in each other and also contage to other categories of bad behavior, thus increasing their rates of occurrence. These interacting classes of behavior problems produce effects that are synergistic, (i.e., 1 + 1= 3, 4, or 5), as they manifest through time within the whole population.

This confluence of countless bad behavioral contagions then naturally are increasingly observable in all sectors of the sociocultural. As a result the social and political systems can be overwhelmed with problems that exceed their own human and  economic capabilities to correct. 

If behavioral contagion problems are caught early enough, they could be reversed. Providing, that is, the problems could be conceived as related to behaviorally contagious mechanisms; rather than mindlessly viewing component problems as , unassociated, noncatalytic, noninteracting, isolated or unitary frequencies of occurrence.

As the quality of the behavior of the people who serve in social and political systems are then stressed and decline they serve as a catalyst for further increasing rates of bad behavioral contagion. To make matters worse population behavior contagion leads to a decline in the average quality of behavior of new generations of personnel who eventually serve in these social and political systems. I call the increase of bad behavioral contagion within a socioculture’s institutions and agencies, Higher Order Behavioral Contagion. This is exactly what we are seeing now in America and elsewhere.

The damages produced by increasing rates of bad behavioral contagion within a population can massively contribute to the decline of sociocultures. This process is a very stealthy one because it increases in degrees.  The larger, the more technologically advanced, complex and interconnected a socioculture is, I expect, the greater the damage that bad behavioral contagion will do.

America’s chronic failure to more effectively teach good behavior to its children has increased the rate of bad behavioral contagion within our population, with each recent new generation. Bad, or maladaptive, behavior is now rapidly increasing within our population and within our institutions and agencies. It appears that this chain of events has become a causal lattices of self-perpetuating synergistic processes that stimulate behavioral contagion within and between cause and effect levels.

Once he processes of behavioral contagion have become endemic, all the therapists in the world will not stem the flood of bad behavior within our population that is fueling the America’s decline. The only real solution to our systemic behavioral contagion problems is prevention.

This is much easier said than done and it is the reason that once sociocultures enter a steep decline, it is unlikely they will be able to correct this course of events.

America is destroying itself from within. Outside hostile forces are now poised to move in and further accelerate the rate of our destruction.

It will require bold and massive social and political changes to reverse these trends foreboding trends.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.,   4/9/10,

Revised on 9/30/16, Revised on 11/15/18

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