2009 NIJ Conference 2009
Executive Director, The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention
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Right now you have — and for many, many years or decades — an idea that we need to get, quote unquote, "tougher on crime," or something like this. This is anger; it's not science. Anger feels good — anger feels better than sadness or fear. Anger trumps sadness and fear as a psychological emotion. So instead of saying, "I'm afraid of violence," or, "I'm sad about it," I get angry. And then the public gets angry, and so, that becomes the response. Now that is the normal mental mind behavior, psychological response to a problem that we're frustrated with.
However, it completely takes nothing at all into account as to what's going to work. Why? Because there's a fundamental misunderstanding of how behaviors are formed, maintained and changed. Punishment is not part of the game; punishment is completely overvalued; punishment is not how we learn behaviors. It's a very, very, very small part of the whole thing. Behaviors are learned by copying and imitating, observing, modeling, doing what you think you're supposed to do just by watching what other people do. People aren't even caring about punishment half the time. What they learn is how to avoid the punishment. They don't learn that that's what they're supposed — 'cause they're more concerned about what their friends think and what their older brothers think than this other stuff.
So, punishment is overvalued. Not only is it overvalued, it is completely misinterpreted because aggressive punishment is, frankly, copying the psychological literature — the social and psychological literature and mind science literature is that aggressive punishment is copied as aggression. In other words, it's counterproductive. So, the population is looking for an idea or a solution that actually is counterproductive. Little did they know...
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Gary Slutkin, Executive Director, The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, and Professor, University of Illinois
Date modified: April 15, 2011