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Does Violence Beget Violence? A Critical Examination of the Literature

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1989
26 pages
This article assesses the "violence breeds violence" hypothesis by drawing on empircal evidence from the disciplines of psychology, sociology, criminology, psychiatry, social work, and nursing.
Researchers and professionals have used the phrases, cycle of violence and intergenerational transmission of violence, rather loosely to refer to assumptions about the consequences of abuse and neglect. Some writers refer exclusively to the idea that abused children become abusive parents, while others focus on the relationships between child abuse and neglect and later delinquent, adult criminal, or violent behaviors. The literature on child abuse and neglect encompasses a number of distinct phenomena, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, severe physical punishment, and psychological maltreatment. Studies are reviewed that look at violent and homicidal offenders; the link between abuse and neglect and delinquency; violent behavior; aggressive behavior in infants and young children; abuse, withdrawal, and self- destructive behavior; the impact of witnessing violent behavior; children of battered women; and the link between television violence and aggressive behavior. The author concludes that knowledge of the long-term consequences of abusive home environments is limited and that empirical evidence of the "violence breeds violence" hypothesis is sparse. She notes, however, that recent work in developmental psychology relates abuse and neglect to aggressive behavior in children as young as infants and toddlers and that developmental studies reinforce the need to consider the experience of neglect as distinct from abuse. A summary of methodological problems characteristic of cycle of violence literature is appended. 148 references and 3 tables

Date Published: January 1, 1989