U.N. rates of physical violence resulting in death, per 100,000 inhabitants by country in 2002.[1]
  no data
  less than 200
  more than 3000

Violence is the use of physical force to apply a state to others contrary to their wishes.[2][3][4] (Physical) violence, while often a stand-alone issue, is often the culmination of other kinds of conflict, e.g. a father may beat his child up when his patience is exhausted, or two countries may war with each other when diplomatic (political) efforts are exhausted, or a victim of emotional violence may "snap" and attempt to kill their tormentor. Such killings may be tried as a lesser crime than first degree murder, taking the circumstances into account and recognising that tolerances can be exceeded driving one form of violence to spawn another in self-defense.[5]

Worldwide, violence is used as a tool of manipulation and also is an area of concern for law and culture which make attempts to suppress and stop it. The word violence covers a broad spectrum. It can vary from a physical altercation between two beings to war and genocide where millions may die as a result. The Global Peace Index, updated in June 2010, ranks 149 countries according to the "absence of violence".[6]



The causes of violent behavior in humans are often a topic of research in psychology. Neurobiologist Jan Volavka emphasizes that for those purposes, “violent behavior is defined as intentional physically aggressive behavior against another person."[7]

Scientists do agree violence is inherent in humans. Among prehistoric humans, there is archaeological evidence for both contentions of violence and peacefulness as primary characteristics.[8]

Since violence is a matter of perception as well as a measurable phenomenon, psychologists have found variability in whether people perceive certain physical acts as 'violent'. For example, in a state where execution is a legalized punishment we do not typically perceive the executioner as 'violent', though we may talk, in a more metaphorical way, of the state acting violently. Likewise understandings of violence are linked to a perceived aggressor-victim relationship: hence psychologists have shown that people may not recognise defensive use of force as violent, even in cases where the amount of force used is significantly greater than in the original aggression.[9]

The “violent male ape” image is often brought up in discussions of human violence. Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham in “Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence” write that violence is inherent in humans, though not inevitable. However, William L. Ury, editor of a book called "Must We Fight? From the Battlefield to the Schoolyard—A New Perspective on Violent Conflict and Its Prevention” criticizes the "killer ape" myth in his book which brings together discussions from two Harvard Law School symposiums. The conclusion is that “we also have lots of natural mechanisms for cooperation, to keep conflict in check, to channel aggression, and to overcome conflict. These are just as natural to us as the aggressive tendencies."[10]

James Gilligan writes violence is often pursued as an antidote to shame or humiliation.[11] The use of violence often is a source of pride and a defence of honor, especially among males who often believe violence defines manhood.[12]

Steven Pinker in a New Republic article “The History of Violence” offers evidence that on the average the amount and cruelty of violence to humans and animals has decreased over the last few centuries.[13]

Evolutionary psychology offers several explanations for human violence in various contexts. Goetz (2010) argues that humans are similar to most mammal species and use violence in specific situations. He writes that "Buss and Shackelford (1997a) proposed seven adaptive problems our ancestors recurrently faced that might have been solved by aggression: co-opting the resources of others, defending against attack, inflicting costs on same-sex rivals, negotiating status and hierarchies, deterring rivals from future aggression, deterring mate from infidelity, and reducing resources expended on genetically unrelated children."[14]

Goetz writes that most homocides seem to start from relatively trivial disputes between unrelated men who then escalate to violence and death. He argues that such conflicts occur when there is a status dispute between men of relatively similar status. If there is a great initial status difference, then the lower status individual usually offers no challenge and if challenged the higher status individual usually ignores the lower status individual. At the same an environment of great inequalities between people may cause those at the bottom to use more violence in attempts to gain status.[14]

Gender and violence

Two army officers arguing over a card game with their handguns drawn

"Criminological studies have traditionally ignored half the population: Women are largely invisible in both theoretical considerations and empirical studies. Since the 1970s, important feminist works have noted the way in which criminal transgressions by women occur in different contexts from those by men and how women experiences with the criminal justice system are influenced by gendered assumptions about appropriate male and female roles. Feminists have also highlighted the prevalence of violence against women, both at home and in public."[15]

Of all crimes reported in 2006, 76.2 percent of arrestees were men and also there was a huge imbalance in the ratio of men to women in prison. In 2004, women only made up 7.1 percent of the prison population.[15]

Men are also overwhelmingly the victims of violent crimes. [16] Men are 4 times more likely to be murdered than women. [17]

Youth and violence

About 34 percent of all offenders arrested for criminal offenses in 2006 were under the age of twenty-one (Federal Bureau of Investigations 2007b).

Some scholars have suggested that media may contribute to youth violence.[18] [19] However most research has not supported this contention. For instance a recent long-term outcome study of youth found no long-term relationship between playing violent video game and youth violence or bullying [20]

According to the book, The Effects of Race and Family Attachment on Self Esteem, Self Control, and Delinquency, children who are raised by both parents and receive proper affection are more than likely to grow into a non-violent individual. It is believed that a child needs to bond with their parents during the early ages of childhood. As a result, the child has a higher chance of not growing into a violent person. Many children who do not receive the affection they need from their parents often turn to other sources to fill that void with a common source being a gang.

Targeted violence

Several rare but painful episodes of assassination, attempted assassination and shootings in schools and universities in the United States led to a considerable body of research on ascertainable behaviors of persons who have planned or carried out such attacks. These studies (1995-2002) investigated what the authors called "targeted violence," described the "path to violence" of those who planned or carried out attacks, and laid out suggestions for law enforcement and educators. A major point from these research studies is that targeted violence does not just "come out of the blue."[21][22][23][24][25][26]

Domestic violence

Domestic violence is as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation.


Some legal drugs such as benzodiazepines may have adverse side effects that include violence.


One of the main functions of law is to regulate violence.[27]

Sociologist Max Weber stated that the state claims, for better or worse, a monopoly on violence practiced within the confines of a specific territory. Law enforcement is the main means of regulating nonmilitary violence in society. Governments regulate the use of violence through legal systems governing individuals and political authorities, including the police and military. Civil societies authorize some amount of violence, exercised through the police power, to maintain the status quo and enforce laws.

However, German political theorist Hannah Arendt noted: "Violence can be justifiable, but it never will be legitimate ... Its justification loses in plausibility the farther its intended end recedes into the future. No one questions the use of violence in self-defence, because the danger is not only clear but also present, and the end justifying the means is immediate".[28] Arendt made a clear distinction between violence and power. Most political theorists regarded violence as an extreme manifestation of power whereas Arendt regarded the two concepts as opposites.[29] In the 20th century in acts of democide governments may have killed more than 260 million of their own people through police brutality, execution, massacre, slave labor camps, and sometimes through intentional famine.[30]

Violent acts that are not carried out by the military or police and that are not in self-defence are usually classified as crimes, although not all crimes are violent crimes. Damage to property is classified as violent crime in some jurisdictions but not in all.[citation needed]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation classifies violence resulting in homicide into criminal homicide and justifiable homicide (e.g. self defense).[31]


A United States M8 Greyhound armored car in Paris during World War II

War is a state of prolonged violent large-scale conflict involving two or more groups of people, usually under the auspices of government. War is fought as a means of resolving territorial and other conflicts, as war of aggression to conquer territory or loot resources, in national self-defense, or to suppress attempts of part of the nation to secede from it.[citation needed]

Since the Industrial Revolution, the lethality of modern warfare has steadily grown. World War I casualties were over 40 million and World War II casualties were over 70 million.

Nevertheless, some hold the actual deaths from war have decreased compared to past centuries. In War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois, calculates that 87% of tribal societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65% of them were fighting continuously. The attrition rate of numerous close-quarter clashes, which characterize endemic warfare, produces casualty rates of up to 60%, compared to 1% of the combatants as is typical in modern warfare.[32] Stephen Pinker agrees, writing that “in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher.”[33]

Jared Diamond in his award-winning books, Guns, Germs and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee provides sociological and anthropological evidence for the rise of large scale warfare as a result of advances in technology and city-states. The rise of agriculture provided a significant increase in the number of individuals that a region could sustain over hunter-gatherer societies, allowing for development of specialized classes such as soldiers, or weapons manufacturers. On the other hand, tribal conflicts in hunter-gatherer societies tend to result in wholesale slaughter of the opposition (other than perhaps females of child-bearing years) instead of territorial conquest or slavery, presumably as hunter-gatherer numbers could not sustain empire-building.[citation needed]

Religious and political ideology

The crusades are an example of religious violence taken to its extreme.[citation needed]

Religious and political ideologies have been the cause of interpersonal violence throughout history.[34] Ideologues often falsely accuse others of violence, such as the ancient blood libel against Jews, the medieval accusations of casting witchcraft spells against women, caricatures of black men as “violent brutes” that helped excuse the late 19th century Jim Crow laws in the United States,[35] and modern accusations of satanic ritual abuse against day care center owners and others.[36]

Both supporters and opponents of the 21st century War on Terrorism regard it largely as an ideological and religious war.[37]

Vittorio Bufacchi describes two different modern concepts of violence, one the “minimalist conception” of violence as an intentional act of excessive or destructive force, the other the “comprehensive conception” which includes violations of rights, including a long list of human needs.[38]

Anti-capitalists assert that capitalism is violent. They believe private property, trade, interest and profit survive only because police violence defends them and that capitalist economies need war to expand.[39] They may use the term "structural violence" to describe the systematic ways in which a given social structure or institution kills people slowly by preventing them from meeting their basic needs, for example the deaths caused by diseases because of lack of medicine.[40] Free market supporters argue that it is violently enforced state laws intervening in markets - state capitalism - which cause many of the problems anti-capitalists attribute to structural violence.[41]

Frantz Fanon critiqued the violence of colonialism and wrote about the counter violence of the "colonized victims."[42][43][44]

Throughout history, most religions and individuals like Mahatma Gandhi have preached that humans are capable of eliminating individual violence and organizing societies through purely nonviolent means. Gandhi himself once wrote: “A society organized and run on the basis of complete non-violence would be the purest anarchy.”[45] Modern political ideologies which espouse similar views include pacifist varieties of voluntarism, mutualism, anarchism and libertarianism.

Health and prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines violence as "Injury inflicted by deliberate means", which includes assault, as well as "legal intervention, and self-harm".[46] The World Health Organization ( “WHO”) in its first World Report on Violence and Health defined violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation."[47]

WHO estimates that each year around 1.6 million lives are lost worldwide due to violence. It is among the leading causes of death for people ages 15–44, especially of males.[48]

Recent estimates for murders per year in various countries include: 55,000 murders in Brazil,[49] 25,000 murders in Colombia,[50] 20,000 murders in South Africa, 15,000 murders in Mexico, 14,000 murders in the United States,[51] 11,000 murders in Venezuela, 8,000 murders in Russia, 6,000 murders in El Salvador, 1,600 murders in Jamaica,[52] 1000 murders in France, 500 murders in Canada, and 200 murders in Chile.[53]

Violence in the media

Research into the media and violence examines whether links between consuming media violence and subsequent aggressive and violent behavior exists. Although some scholars had claimed media violence may increase aggression [54], this view is coming increasingly in doubt both in the scholarly community [55] and was recently rejected by the US Supreme Court in the Brown v EMA case, as well as in a review of video game violence by the Australian Government (2010) which concluded evidence for harmful effects were inconclusive at best and the rhetoric of some scholars was not matched by good data.

Classification & nomenclature

See also


  1. ^ "Mortality and Burden of Disease Estimates for WHO Member States in 2002" (xls). World Health Organization. 2004. 
  2. ^, Merriam-Webster Dictionary Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  3. ^, Oxford English Dictionary Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  4. ^, American Heritage Dictionary, Violence, Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  5. ^ Kopel, David B.; Gallant, Paul and Eisen, Joanne D. (2008). "The Human Right of Self-Defense". BYU Journal of Public Law (BYU Law School) 22: 43–178. SSRN 1022097. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Neurobiology of Violence, An Update, Journal of Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 11:3, Summer 1999. As Mexican Biologist and Scientologist Adri Rodriguez says, Violence is a recurring motif in today's society.
  8. ^ Heather Whipps, Peace or War? How early humans behaved, LiveScience.Com, March 16, 2006.
  9. ^ Rowan, John (1978). The Structured Crowd. Davis-Poynter.. 
  10. ^ Cindy Fazzi, Debunking the "killer ape" myth, Dispute Resolution Journal, May–July 2002.
  11. ^ Gilligan, James (1996). Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes. Putnam Adult.  ISBN 0-399-13979-6 .
  12. ^ Emotional Competency; Dr. Michael Obsatz,From Shame-Based Masculinity to Holistic Manhood, Robin Morgan, The Demon Lover On the Sexuality of Terrorism, W.W. Norton, 1989, Chapter 5.
  13. ^ Steven Pinker, The History of Violence, The New Republic, March 19, 2007.
  14. ^ a b Goetz, A. T. (2010). "The evolutionary psychology of violence". Psicothema 22 (1): 15–21. PMID 20100422.  edit
  15. ^ a b Introduction to sociology. 7th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009. Page 187. Print. This is a tertiary source that clearly includes information from other sources but does not name them. (A better citation would be preferred here. You can help Wikipedia by providing one.)
  16. ^ "Trends by offending rates by gender of victim". Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Homicide Trends In The U.S.". Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  18. ^ Pennell, Amanda. Browne, Kevin 1999 ‘Film violence and Young offenders’ Aggression and Violent behavior, pp 13-38.
  19. ^ Anderson, Craig A., Leonard Berkowitz, Edward Donnerstein, L. Rowell Huesmann, James D. Johnson, Daniel Linz, Neil M. Malamuth, and Ellen Wartella. The Influence of Media Violence on Youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest Vol. 4 No. 3. American Psychological Society, Dec. 2003. Web.
  20. ^ "Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents", Christopher J. Ferguson, Journal of Youth and Adolescence
  21. ^ Fein, R.A., Vossekuil, B. & Holden, G. Threat Assessment: an approach to prevent targeted violence. NCJ 155000. Research in Action, September, 1995, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C.
  22. ^ Fein, R.A. & Vossekuil, B. Assassination in the United States: an operational study of recent assassins, attackers, and near-lethal approachers. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1999. 50: p. 321-333
  23. ^ Vossekuil, B., Borum, R., Fein, R.A., & Reddy, M. Preventing targeted violence against judicial officials and courts. ANNALS, American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2001, 576: p. 78-90
  24. ^ Fein, R.A., Vossekuil, B., Pollack, W., Borum, R., Reddy, M.,& Modzeleski, W. Threat assessment in schools: A guide to managing threatening situations and creating safe school climates. U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service, May, 2002
  25. ^ Reddy, M., Borum, R., Vossekuil, B., Fein, R.A., Berglund, J., & Modzeleski, W. Evaluating risk for targeted violence in schools: Comparing risk assessment, threat assessment, and other approaches in Psychology in the Schools, 2001. 38 (2): pp. 157-172
  26. ^ Borum, R., Fein, R.A., Vossekuil, B. & Berglund, J. Threat assessment: Defining an approach for evaluating risk of targeted violence. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 1999. 17: p.323-337)
  27. ^ see: Joseph (Yossi) E. David, The One who is More Violent Prevails - Law and Violence from a Talmudic Legal Perspective, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2006
  28. ^ Arendt, Hannah sfdhxvczgrsdfcxzrfergSDS n Violence. Harvest Book. p. 52. .
  29. ^ Arendt, H. (1972) On Violence in Crises in the Republic, Florida, Harcourt, Brace and Company, pp 134-155.
  30. ^ Twentieth Century Democide; Atlas - Wars and Democide of the Twentieth Century.
  31. ^ "Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook" (PDF). Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2004. .
  32. ^ Review of book “War Before Civilization” by Lawrence H. Keeley, July, 2004.
  33. ^ Stephen Pinker.
  34. ^ "Doctrinal War: Religion and Ideology in International Conflict," in Bruce Kuklick (advisory ed.), The Monist: The Foundations of International Order, Vol. 89, No. 2 (April 2006), p. 46.
  35. ^ The Brute Caricature, Ferris State University Museum of Racist Memorabilia.
  36. ^ 42 M.V.M.O. Court Cases with Allegations of Multiple Sexual And Physical Abuse of Children.
  37. ^ John Edwards' 'Bumper Sticker' Complaint Not So Off the Mark, New Memo Shows; Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, Free Press; 2004; Michael Scheuer, Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, Potomac Books Inc., June, 2004; Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation - The Conquest of the Middle East, Fourth Estate, London, October 2005; Leon Hadar, The Green Peril: Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat, August 27, 1992; Michelle Malkin, Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week kicks off, October 22, 2007; John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, Oxford University Press, USA, September 2003.
  38. ^ Vittoriio Bufacchi, Two Concepts of Violence, Political Studies Review, April 2005, Volume 3, Issue 2, Page 193-204.
  39. ^ Michael Albert Life After Capitalism - And Now Too., December 10, 2004; Capitalism explained.
  40. ^ Bruce Bawer, The Peace Racket, September 7, 2007.
  41. ^ Hans-Hermann Hoppe, From the Economics of Laissez Faire to The Ethics of Libertarianism.
  42. ^ Charles E. Butterworth and Irene Gendzier. “Frantz Fanon and the Justice of Violence. ”Middle East Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 451-458
  43. ^ (pg 44)
  44. ^ Adele Jinadu. “Fanon: The Revolutionary as Social Philosopher.” The Review of Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1972), pp. 433-436
  45. ^ Bharatan Kumarappa, Editor, "For Pacifists," by M.K. Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, India, 1949.
  46. ^ CDC Definition of Violence.
  47. ^ World Report on Violence and Health, October 3, 2002.
  48. ^ WHO: 1.6 million die in violence annually.
  49. ^ Brazil murder rate similar to war zone, data shows.
  50. ^ Colombia's Uribe wins second term.
  51. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Homicide.
  52. ^ Jamaica 'murder capital of the world'.
  53. ^ Crime Statistics.
  54. ^ Anderson, Craig A., Leonard Berkowitz, Edward Donnerstein, L. Rowell Huesmann, James D. Johnson, Daniel Linz, Neil M. Malamuth, and Ellen Wartella. The Influence of Media Violence on Youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest Vol. 4 No. 3. American Psychological Society, Dec. 2003. Web.
  55. ^ "Blazing Angels or Resident Evil? Can Violent Video Games Be a Force for Good?", Christopher J. Ferguson, Review of General Psychology, 14, 68-81


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  • Violence — Vi o*lence, n. [F., fr. L. violentia. See {Violent}.] 1. The quality or state of being violent; highly excited action, whether physical or moral; vehemence; impetuosity; force. [1913 Webster] That seal You ask with such a violence, the king, Mine …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • violence — Violence. subst. fem. Qualité de ce qui est violent. La violence des vents, de la tempeste, du mal, de la douleur, d un remede, &c. la violence de son humeur. Violence, signifie aussi, La force dont on use contre le droit commun, contre les loix …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • violence — Violence, Violentia, Vis. La violence et cours d une oraison, Incitatio orationis. Faire violence à aucun, Vim et manus alicui inferre, vel afferre, Faþcere vim alicui. Oster par force et violence, Per oppressionem eripere. Avec violence et force …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • violence — I noun assault, attack, brutality, clash, convulsion, disorder, eruption, explosion, ferocity, force, fracas, furiousness, fury, inclemency, manus, onslaught, outburst, rage, rampage, ruthlessness, savagery, severity, unlawful force, vehemence,… …   Law dictionary

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