Posts Tagged ‘Pain Elicited Aggression’

The Psychology of Riots

October 21, 2011

The Psychology of Riots

The following is not meant to be a survey of all of the causes of peaceful street demonstrations, or street demonstrations that become chaotic, destructive, and dangerous riots.

While a graduate student at Western Michigan University (WMU), Detroit Michigan erupted into one of the most lethal and destructive riots in the history of  America. Dr. Roger Ulrich, one of my professors specializing in the study of aggression in animals and humans at WMU, spoke of pain elicited aggression and extinction produced aggression as psychological principles that were likely involved in the rioting.

With pain elicited aggression, behavioral research has demonstrated that when animals are given painful stimulation they are very likely to aggress against other animals or even inanimate objects.  To a lesser, but significant degree, this also holds for humans.

Extinction produced aggression can occur in animals who work on a thick schedule of reinforcement (rewards) when the rewards suddenly stop. Under these conditions animals are very likely to attack other animals or inanimate objects.

To a lesser, but significant degree, this is also observed in humans who are used to getting reinforcement (rewards) on a thick, or free/ non-contingent basis, and the rewards suddenly are stopped (or curtailed sharply).

The old Frustration/Aggression Hypothesis in psychology is also relevant.  When animals are frustrated in various ways, they are more likely to aggress. To a lesser, though significant degree, this is also true with humans.

What does all of this imply for our current  global and U.S. riotous behavior patterns?

It is my view that increasing socialism will eventually fail to support the masses in the style to which they have become accustomed. The result will predictably be riots.

There have been such riots in Germany, Greece, Austria, Turkey, France, and Spain. I bet there will be more to come.

I also believe that capitalism without equal opportunity for all; or capitalism bereft of a strong moral strictures; or capitalism corrupted by cronyism; or capitalism which morphs into quasi-socialism; or capitalism which fails to adequately teach its children its own philosophical and ethical underpinnings will fall into the chaos of social unrest and riots.

I belive this is what is happening in America at this moment.

The “Occupy Wall Street” riots have spread to Chicago, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and Boston. I expect more of the same.

When we design our sociocultures and economic systems without consideration of the basic principles of psychology we proceed at our own unnecessary and regrettable high risk of failure.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.     10/21/11


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