Violent Thinking and Empathy in Youth Violence


Violent Thinking and Empathy in Youth Violence





Tutor’s Name

21st, March 2013



Violence is a major issue experienced by the youth today. This involves deliberately subjecting a person to physical or emotional pain by using physical force. Violence has many detrimental effects on the individuals involved. This study specifically addresses youth violence, in the context of the United Kingdom. The main aim is to establish the relationship between empathy and violent thinking and youth violence. Effects of empathy and violent thinking on youth violence are assessed using the EAI and MVQ measures. Recommendations will base on empathy development in society.


The independent variables in this study are empathy and violent thinking, while the dependable variable is youth violence. The study seeks to prove that higher levels of empathy in the population results in lower levels of youth violence. On the other hand, if violent thinking is highly prevalent in society, then the levels of youth violence will be high.

Problem Statement

Youth violence is a problem in the United Kingdom, which dates back to the past decades. This comprises a myriad of violent behaviours in youth. These behaviours cause physical and psychological harm, as well as death of the victims. Krug et al. (2002) also note that youth violence might result in maldevelopment or deprivation of the victims. Youth violence has raised important public health and psychological concerns in the UK. If the trend of youth violence continues, this will affect the UK population in many detrimental ways (Budd, et al., 2005). Therefore, remedies are needed for this situation.


            Youth violence comprises harmful behaviours among the youth, which might start at their early youthful stage, and continue into their young adulthood stage. These behaviours include bullying, hitting, or slapping, among others. Youth violence is committed with or without weapon use (Squires, 2009). A young person might be an offender, a victim, or a witness to violence. Youth violence in the UK has been prevalent over the last decades. Although the trend from the 1990’s shows that youth violence is gradually decreasing in the UK, more needs to be done to stop it completely (Budd, et al., 2005). Youth violence is experienced in affluent, average, and poor neighbourhoods in towns and rural areas. This is attributed to a decline in social order, as it is experienced in schools, shopping malls, streets, homes, among other places, including those, which would be considered safe (Squires, 2009). The young people involved in youth violence in most cases are friends, relatives, or acquaintances of the victims. Nonetheless, different scientific and social researches have shown that youth violence is preventable, if appropriate strategies are undertaken to address the issue. The main strategy that will be tested in this study is empathy, which is believed to result in attitude change in the perpetrators of youth violence.

Relationship between Youth Violence, Empathy, and Violent Thinking

            All these three factors are the variables used in this paper. Empathy and violent thinking are the independent variables. These two therefore, influence the level of youth violence. On the other hand, youth violence is the dependable variable. Increased violent thinking leads to high violence level, while reduced violent thinking results in low levels of violence. On the other hand, increased empathy results in low levels of violence, while reduced empathy increases violence levels. On the other hand, increased empathy means less or absence of violent thinking, and while increased violent thinking means no empathy.

Definition of Terms


            According to the World Health Organization, violence is defined as the intentional use of physical power or force, which might be threatened or actual, against a 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 (Krug et al., 2002).  Therefore, regardless of the outcome, whenever force or power is intentionally used on a person, this qualifies as violence. According to Heale, (2008), a youth might engage in violence as an individual, or in a gang.


            According to Miller (2009), empathy is the ability of an individual to share the feelings of another individual, including feelings of pain, and understand them. Both biology and culture are determinants of empathy. Children can be taught empathy as they grow up, while adults, who wish to have empathy, might use various ways of learning empathy, though this is not as easy as the case in children.

Violent Thinking

            Violent thinking is characterized by negative thoughts about people. This involves picturing oneself engaging in violent acts such as killing a colleague. All these thoughts happen in a dehumanizing mind (Gelven, 2003). David Livingstone Smith, who is a Co-founder of New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Studies, notes that violent thinking leads to violent acts. Normally, an individual’s inhabitation will prevent them from engaging in violence. However, when there is an imbalance, a person will engage in violence. He also notes that in the extreme process of violent thinking, dehumanization occurs. The violent thinker will view other humans as subhuman, less important, and who are fit to be destroyed (Forbes India Staff, 2010).

Literature Review

            Various countries have instituted policies to act on increased levels of youth violence. These include expulsions from schools, physical punishment, surveillance cameras, and security guards, among others. However, these methods are reactive and not proactive, since they solve rather than prevent the issue. According to Weissberg & Greenberg (1998), better methods should be based on social and emotional skills in the youth and children. These include emotional literacy, respect for others, empathy, and self-esteem development. Since these do not conform to antisocial behaviour, they will help prevent youth violence.

Goleman (1995) identifies empathy as one of domains of emotional competence, which are important for positive relations between individuals. He describes empathy as the awareness of feelings of other people around an individual. If a person is empathetic, Goleman (1995) considers them to be in a position to role-play and understand other people, including their feelings and opinions. He also notes that empathy helps in interpersonal conflict resolutions. This therefore, is in apposition to help reduce cases of aggression and violence among the youth.

Smith et al. (2000) note that violent thinking should be prevented in order for youth violence to be eliminated. They suggest that an individual have self-control over their thoughts and emotions, including anger. On the other hand, Johnson &. Johnson (1996) propose that individuals should possess the interpersonal skill of empathy in times of conflict and disagreements. Instead of fighting or engaging in violence, youth should use empathy to solve and settle their differences, thus, choosing peace over violence. Smith et al. (2000) argue that the most effective strategies to address youth violence are those that are based on emotions and behaviour change, instead of physical punishment. Among them, they identified empathy as one of the effective emotional strategies, as this makes an individual understand other people’s feelings, thus, preventing youth violence.

Developing Empathy

            Development of empathy can occur at any stage in life. However, Decety (2009) argues that it is easier to develop empathy in children than in adults. In children, their parents and family can teach them empathy by enforcing positive acts and practices, while discouraging the negative ones. On the other hand, young adults and the mature adults can learn empathy through various ways. However, the most important way is to gain a personal perspective and learn to heal from past hurt. They achieve this by separating themselves emotionally from any violent behaviours or thoughts (Eron, Gentry & Schlegel, 1994).

Empathy as a Source of Attitude Change

Goldstein (1999) asserts that the traditional methods of physical punishment and threats have proved to be ineffective in realizing attitude change among the youth, who engage in violent behaviours.  Although these methods have been used since the era of civilization, the fact that youth violence around the globe has been on the increase is proof enough that these have failed in their mandate.  Smith et al. (2000) argue that strategies based on emotions are effective in addressing youth violence, compared to those based on physical punishment.  In addition, evidence shows that life and emotional skills are effective in helping youth deal various challenges, including the temptations to engage in violence (Smith & Sandhu, 2004). Empathy has been identified as a vital emotional strategy, as well as a life and emotional skill, capable of eliminating violent thinking and violent behaviours among the youth.

Empathy Assessment Index

            Recently, scientists have realized that empathy is an emotional factor that can be measured. However, the previous measures such as Interpersonal Reactivity Index, used for empathy proved to be ineffective. This was mainly because of their low reliability, and poor internal consistency, among other inadequacies. However, the development of EAI has proved successful in the measurement of empathy (Lietz et al., 2011).

Evaluation of the EAI found it capable of better results than the previous standards. EAI employs four major components, which are based on empathy. These include affective response, self-other awareness, perspective taking, and emotion regulation. These were also proved to add more value to the EAI, thus increasing its effectiveness. However, the researchers have considered some revision on the perspective taking component and the self-other component, in order to strengthen this standard of measurement of empathy (Lietz et al., 2011).

Contrast of EAI with the Neural Bases of Empathy

The EAI is grounded in both the social and neurological science, thus capable of producing more valid reliable data. This therefore, considers both the social and neurological aspects of empathy. On the other hand, the neural bases of empathy do not put the social factors into consideration, but only base on neurology. These do not therefore, explain the specific social aspects, which are responsible for empathy.

Maudsley Violence Questionnaire (MVQ)

            The MVQ was designed for the purpose of measuring different elements, which characterize violent behaviour. These aspects include rules, beliefs, and attitudes, which lead to, or associated with violent and aggressive behaviour in women and men. Initially, the MVQ comprised 97 items, but after analysis, these were reduced to 56. In these 56 items, 42 items represent machismo. These items bear aspects of rejection to back down due to the embarrassment, engaging in violence when threatened or attacked, and belief that men are violent, since non-violence is a resemblance of fear. The remaining 14 items are concerned with acceptance of violence. These include aspects of considering non-violence as ethical and pleasure in engaging in non-violence (Walker, 2005). The reliability of MVQ shows that men score high in violence, mainly because of the machismo factor. The MVQ can be used on a variety of groups, despite their age or gender. Their level of violence can therefore, be evaluated through asking the questions on the questionnaire, as these will reveal a person’s beliefs and attitude toward violence, whether they regard it as acceptable or unacceptable. The MVQ does not measure directly the aspect of personality; however, its cognitive approach can be customized to measure personality (Walker, 2005).


            Countries today have invested in different preventive strategies, some that have not been tested and proven effective.  In order to prevent and control youth violence effectively, the interventions adopted must be evaluated using consistent standards.  There are various strategies and information on how to prevent and control youth violence. Therefore, it is not possible to utilize one strategy only, instead, a variety of strategies should be employed by a country for increased efficiency in the process of youth violence prevention and control. Thus, in addition to other strategies such as scientific research and others, which countries use today, this study emphasizes the adoption of empathy as a source of attitude change. This will help prevent and control youth violence, if it is developed in children and the youth in a country.


            Youth violence is a contributing factor to underdevelopment in various spheres of a country. Today a lot of information about causes and effects of youth violence is available through various mediums. However, there is need for countries to invest in strategies that will help to clear youth violence. Although countries have invested in youth violence prevention programmes, scientific researches, and public health surveillance, one important strategy that has not been considered is the development of empathy in youth and children, as they grow up. This social or life skill is capable of making one not to indulge in violence. If countries can afford resources required to perform this, then in future, youth violence will not exist. Overall, youth violence is real, but again, it is preventable, and only requires efforts and commitment to appropriate preventive and control strategies.



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