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We posit that aggression along with conventionalism and obedience are genetic in origin. These are the traits that Authoritarian Personalities wear on their sleeves, and we now propose they have their origins in the jungle and savanna. We are not yet in a position to say the genes controlling these features do so via hormones, but that is a very reasonable possibility, especially for violence.

Personality in some people can show up as anger in a flash, perhaps driven by a adrenalin. But of course androgens can "load the gun" so to speak. Understanding the conditions under which a person erupts can go a long way toward calming them down--if they are receptive.

But we are also concerned with personality changes that occur essentially overnight. The Holocaust, the Stanford Prison Experiment, the the Rwandan Genocide, and Abu Ghraib were each very different settings, yet each displayed the same change, from peaceful citizen into an aggressive monster. In each case, the overnight changes were totally out of character. There are many other such examples, the Milgram Experiment, and Burger's Confirmation for added examples. It is now compelling that our personalities are like veneers, eggshell thin, subject to quick change in response to certain situations. There are many similar examples.

In thinking about the great differences in violence rates among different societies, we can only accept the fact that nurture can influence what we are born with. A co-founder of this site and a psychotherapist, explained it this way: "We are each born with an envelope--our temperament--that contains our genetic potential. After birth, our environment shapes our envelope this way and that to produce our personalities for better or worse."

From that we conclude that genes for violence can override otherwise civilized behavior--given the right stimulus. Judging from the Rwandan genocide, many (more likely most) of us are powder kegs walking around--females and children included.

Some societies do much better than others
at avoiding explosive situations.
What do they have in common, and to what degree,
that other societies do not?


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