Of Terrible twos and Violence

The psychologist Tremblay says that violent behaviour is in-built in humans. We are all hard-wired for aggression and violence. The question is: when does it first surface. He says one can see tell-tale signs of aggression  in a child itself indicating it is innate. Tremblay perhaps exaggerates when he says that if children do not kill each other it’s because we do not give them access to knives and guns.

I can attest to the aggressive behaviour of children from my experience with my grand-daughter. She is passing through what is aptly termed as terrible twos. This is the most difficult and the most enjoyable period of bringing up a child. She is defiant, mischievous, full of energy, confident, fearless, joyful, fun-loving, pleased with simple things but absolutely demanding at times.

There are times when she has to have her way come what may. If the phone rings, for instance, she has the first right to lift the phone and say hello. For some reason if anyone violates this unwritten law, he or she does it at her own peril! She will do everything in her power (which is indeed immense)to make you regret your action. A couple of days back, I witnessed one such scene and her grand-mother had to make amends by calling up again and giving the little one the exclusive honour of speaking gibberish after her initial hello.

I have been at the receiving end of her aggression and violence on several occasions. If I am lying down on the bed and see her anywhere nearby, I would always take the precaution of sleeping in a defensive posture to protect myself from the little one as she is known to make unannounced long jumps with me as the target. It’s interesting as to how the kids suddenly turn aggressive and violent as they cross 2 years of age. It’s equally puzzling as to how they learn to stop being violent once they pass this stage.

Social psychologists tell us that if children stop being aggressive as they age, it’s because of the recognition that the others can also inflict pain in retaliation. But then there are other ways of satisfying the craving. As someone said: I do not kill people but enjoy reading obituaries nevertheless.

In a sample survey conducted by scientists in an US university, 80 to 90% of people surveyed confessed to having homicidal fantasies at some point in their lives. The scientists surmised that the remaining 10% perhaps lied! What a revelation! This message is captured nicely in a book titled: Bad people do what good people dream of.

We may not exhibit aggression in our daily lives, but most of us would love to read about stories of violence in news papers. It’s for the same reason we also like ghastly stories and movies depicting Nazi atrocities or terrorists’ attacks. An uneventful day of reportage in a news paper is never as interesting as the one packed with stories of violence. If any violence is committed anywhere, there is a natural craving for information on the detailed descriptions of how and why.

Hard-wiring for aggression is not surprising if one considers our evolutionary past. Our ancestors had to endure so much of violence in their lives that they could not possibly have lived without the craving for information on how violence was committed.

One may wonder whether there is any scientific evidence for this theory of innate aggression. Yes, there is. Interestingly, several studies by neuroscientists have confirmed the existence of what is known as a Rage Circuit in our brain ( Will write more on this in another blog).

All this does not mean that we are doomed as a species. On the brighter side,  evolutionary psychology also points out that our minds are also wired for several positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, love, joy, altruism. That is the beauty of creation –  the bad & the ugly is always balanced by the good. And the struggle goes on.


Published in: on July 18, 2016 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  

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