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The Factors And Origin Of Evil

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The dictionary definition of evil is “morally bad, cruel, or very unpleasant”. But in psychological terms what is evil? Why is this idea of being evil so feared and why are people deemed evil? Is evil just a concept that has been made up to put a label on other peoples’ actions to bring comfort to others as then then know these so-called evil people are abnormal or is it a deeper issue. Can our own minds make us turn into things we never thought we would be, or can we be conditioned into believing what we are doing is morally correct when others deem it as bad. All of these things are possible. At the end of the day evil is just a word, but it is a word that holds so much power over how we can see others. It is a word that controls how individuals are treated in our society and the judgment they receive. We need to use the word evil carefully. When and where it is used can influence someone’s life in such a great deal because of our own perspectives that they may be driven to act upon it or in some situations not get the help that they truly need.

Adolf Eichmann was a normal citizen whom was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes during the Nuremberg trial in 1961 when he stated that he “was just doing his job” (Arendt, 1963, p. 135). Ardent explains how the holocaust was carried out by normal people who were just following rules and not just a dictator. These people simply just accepted the rules they were given and therefore saw their own actions as normal. This shows how anyone can be seduced to act wrong (Zimbardo 2004, p. 25) as Adolf Eichmann wasn’t the only person involved, many other German citizens were also playing a part in carrying out the holocaust without real realisation of the point of it, they were just obeying authority. Their bad behaviour is supported by the bad system giving permission for a pathological behaviour(Zimbardo, 2007).

A key part of investigating evil is by looking a criminals’, inmates in prison are often deemed evil in our society due to the crimes which they have committed. Zimbardo investigates this by setting up a mock prison himself which he set up in Stanford university. The Stanford Prison experiment shows the power in which institution influences an individual. It demonstrates how these students go from showing normal behaviour into showing sadistic behaviour from the “guards” or helpless behaviour from the “prisoners”. The experiment was meant to last for fourteen. days but had to be stopped after six because of the emotional trauma and breakdowns of five of the students.(Zimbardo, 1971; Zimbardo et al., 2000; 2004, p. 40)

The Stanford prison experiment is similar to what happened in Abu Ghraib, where Iraqi detainees where abused by American soldiers in many inhumane ways. In the Stanford prison experiment the prisoners became powerless and were dehumanised by being forced to do tasks like cleaning the toilets with their bare hands, sleeping on the cold floor making them feel powerless. The events in Abu Gharib were described by president bush as the incidents of a few bad apples (fox news 2004). These “bad apples” were punished but Zimbardo argued that they was not in fact entirely their fault. It was similar to his experiment where good people were put into a psychologically unhealthy environment and it impacted their behaviour and outlook on things significantly. The soldiers didn’t have any preparation to run a prison just like in Zimbardo’s experiment or the German citizens obeying orders. Their behaviour changed leading to immoral decisions which seemed as if they were justified to them.

This evil behaviour is associated with aggression and violence which can stem from biological causes. An allele conveying low activity of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), an enzyme involved in regulating the metabolism of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, which influence brain function (Shih et al.,1999).High levels of dopamine will cause and increase in the likelihood of feelings of reward when aggression is carried out. Low levels of serotonin will cause a lack of inhibition over impulsive behaviour. High levels or noradrenaline will cause overreaction to perceived threats. This may make it more difficult for some people to stay away from so called evil activity than others. This makes it hard to judge if their behaviour was caused by a result of this gene or their own free will.

A study (by Capsi et al 2002) looked at the environmental factor of childhood maltreatment and MAOA gene to investigate the cause of antisocial behaviour in adulthood. They used date from a Dunedin birth cohort study and the antisocial behaviour was assessed when the participates (white males) were aged 26. They found that 12% of men with low activity MAOA genotype had experienced maltreatment during their childhood and were responsible for 44% of the convictions for violence. Out of those, 85% developed a form of antisocial behaviour. Those men who were not maltreated were unlikely to display antisocial behaviour during adulthood. This study would however be much more difficult to carry out on women as females have two copies of the X chromosome (where MAOA is located) and due to this they do not divide into the low and high groups. As nearly half have the low-high MAOA combination is does not show the side effects and only 12% of women have the low-low variant of the gene.

The level of arousal (psychophysiology) can indicate whether there is a biological explanation of criminal and antisocial behaviour. Measuring the persons heart rate and the amount they sweat for example can show how much and what type of nervous system is function. Heart rate can tell us that both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are working while the amount of sweat (skin conductance) shows us how much the sympathetic nervous system is working. A lower amount of functioning of the autonomic nervous system is associated with increased antisocial behaviour and violence (Baker et al, 2009). A study of more than 700,000 men (Latvala et al 2015)have also discovered that a lower resting heart rate from ages 10-19 is associated with increased risk for criminal activity in adulthood.

There are different types of antisocial behaviours and criminals which may not share the same types of autonomic functioning. Those who respond with aggression when they are being provoked could experience a more hyperactive autonomic functioning (Hubbard et al,2010) compared to those who have high levels of proactive aggression (goal directed behaviour, for example stealing) are more likely to experience a less active autonomic nervous system.

Different parts of the brain have been associated with criminal behaviour and increased antisocial behaviour. The prefrontal cortex is associated with conventional criminal behaviour (yang and Raine, 2009). It controls decision making, moral reasoning, impulse control and regulating emotions. Damage to these can cause behaviour which is considered abnormal and lead to increased violence as a result. Lesion studies on 17 patients who developed criminal behaviour after an accident show that despite the lesions being in different places they were all damaging the frontal cortex so they had limited moral decision making capabilities (Darby et al,2018)

The amygdala controls emotional processes like recognising emotions on others by their facial expressions and tone of voice. It is associated with classical conditioning, learning that for example if you hit someone and they react in a negative way (crying for example) that you caused harm to them. If the amygdala does not develop properly can cause an individual to struggle to recognise cues by peoples emotions. So if they cause harm to someone they will not realise. Reduced amygdala size has been associated with increased aggressive and psychopathic characteristics in adulthood as well as a risk for antisocial behaviour in the future (Pardini et al,2014)

The striatum is associated with recognising rewards (such as those in operant conditioning) and emotional processing (Glenn and Yang,2012). A dysfunctional striatum can cause impulsive and antisocial behaviour in criminals. Individuals with many impulsive personality traits have increased activity in the striatum. Psychopathic individuals have a 9.6% increase in their striatum volumes that non psychopathic individuals (Glenn et al,2010).

There are also many disorders which can cause aggressive and “evil” behaviour. Whether is be bipolar disorder or dementia. It is very important to consider this when deeming an individual to be evil. They may be acting upon their drives and instincts due to a disorder which makes them behave abnormally.

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There are different examples of evil in different cultures. People are raised differently around the world and it is important to understand that there is no such thing as one normal that can apply to everyone. Different nationalities, religions and laws can determine what is considered as “evil”. In some countries in Africa and Asia female genital mutilation takes place. This is highly frowned upon by the rest of the world and organisations are trying their hardest to stop this from happening but despite back lash from other western cultures it still takes place. We may view these people as being evil as they are causing physical and life long harm to others. However they deem it to be acceptable as it is part of their culture to keep girls “pure” and ready to have children so they consider it to be normal. This may be an extreme example but there are others which indicate how criminal justice with other types of evil and antisocial behaviours differ around the world.

Countries which are very strict about religion often have laws which we in our British culture and values find absurd. In Iran they have strict dress codes from hair cuts to the type of clothing in which they are permitted to wear. There are also different types of punishments compared to our prison systems. In Iran capitol punishments are permitted. Many people have been executed as well as other physical punishments. For example a thief’s fingers got cut off. Despite stealing being an antisocial behaviour and evil to some, we would find cutting the criminals fingers off rather disturbing and more evil than the crime committed.

People have their own right to follow their own cultures and beliefs. Some cultural practices exist as children tend to follow in their parents footsteps when they become parents themselves. In the united states children who were physically punished or abused by their parents are more likely to do the same with their children. But most don’t continue these behaviours and make an effort not to treat their children the same way.

Children learn behaviours through watching and imitating others peoples’ behavior as they try to copy what they are doing. Watching television shows with lots of violence or video games based around killing is said to slightly increase violent and aggressive behaviours in young children. Violence is integrated in to young children’s minds through what they can see their parents doing for example swearing and shouting while arguing. Or if they see siblings fighting and causing harm to one another. This can be measured to determine as closely as we can where the behaviour a child expresses comes from. The measurement can be done using a checklist, observation for any noticeable changes in the previously known behavior; a subtype scale may as well be used to determine the aggression levels (Berkowitz, 1993, pp1-25). When witnessing their parents fight children can learn to use this in the future to gain domincance over others or as a way to get what they want. What they see on television is mainly a fantasy and they can form parasocial realtionships with the characters they see. It wont have that much of an impact unless they become completely obsessed and fixated upon them.

Aggressive behaviour in children can also be as a result of what they experience themselves as they grow up for example seeing one of their friends with a toy and not having it themselves. As well as becoming jealous they often have a sense of aggression towards the child that does have it. If they have been disciplined about this for example by a teacher at school, they cannot fight back to the teacher to they will relay this anger and frustration upon someone their own age or younger. Another example could be not doing as well on a test as one of their friends. If their friend is highly praised and gets a reward for it the child will again become jealous and frustrated which can be turned into aggressive behaviours if not dealt with.

This aggressive “evil” behaviour in children can have some positive consequences for example they become known to protect individuals around them and can increase their dominance in social settings allowing them to express their opinions more openly. However the negative consequences are that they are more likely to be rejected by peers and not be able to form strong friendships or relationships. This is because a child within a school setup lacks trust with every around them since they view all the other people as untrustworthy and out to oppress them. This makes them feel unsafe and insecure (Berkowitz, 1993, pp 200-290 ).

They are also more likely to be involved with crime when older as a result of expressing aggressive behaviour. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder is what many children grow up with. Some grow up to lead normal lives as adults but many don’t. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder (CD), and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) are disorders in children which have been shown to carry on into adulthood causing them further problems. ODD is characterised by arguing, not complying or following rules, and irritability which can be found in early childhood. These can often change or become worse as they grow older. ADHD is closely related to hyperactivity-impulsivity and the inability to focus attention on anything for a set amount of time (Morley & Hall, 2003) Hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattention are the most highly related predisposing factors for antisocial behaviour. Which is a behavioural trait found in many violent criminals. The future of children with these conditions is assumed to be made worse as their antisocial tendencies are likely to continue into adulthood making violent crimes more likely (Holmes,2001)Conduct Disorder is characterised as an individual’s violation of society’s rules and norms. Antisocial behaviour between the ages of 9 and 15 years old have a strong correlation with impulsivity as well as aggressive harmful behaviour. Between 70%-90% of violent offenders had been highly aggressive as young children which, some research has shown to be hereditary (Holmes, 2001).

Childhood can be one of the biggest influences upon our behaviour as it is the time where we are learning just how to function. A documentary called “the dangerous few” explores children who are showing psychopathic and unusually aggressive tendencies. One of the children monitored during this is Cody. He is six years old and had killed animals, caused serious harm to his younger sisters and has a hard time expressing his emotions. When he was three he killed a small dog and when his grandmother returned he shouted to her “nanny, nanny I killed your dog” and his mother claimed that he expressed this as if it was “the best thing” he ever did. He doesn’t show remorse to the animals he has killed or people he has injured. He has been diagnosed with attention deficit and conduct disorder, which can cause some of the symptoms he is experiencing but a lot of his actions are very extreme and abnormal.

Another child analysed was Lauren, who also has the same condition as Cody. However, she has experienced treatment which has helped her to develop. Her mother noticed when she was young that she was not like her older sister, she did not go through a stage where she smiled or laughed as a baby. She also so a lot of behaviour which is considered hyper active as well as also struggling to show emotions. Lauren often got into trouble at school, she brought in a tool for cutting tiles into school and attempted to cut a childs finger with it. The school was concerned with her levels of aggression and violence and got in touch with a child psychologist. Her mother is concerned that Lauren will kill her in her sleep as she is scared of her violent tendancies and impulses.

It is hard to determine whether these children behave as a result of their conditions or if they do have some free will over it, trying to establish cause and effect is difficult making it unfalsifiable.

Another documentary (Britians challenging children) highlights the struggles the education system is faced with badly behaved children. They often show behaviours such as kicking, screaming, punching, fighting and being disruptive. It is becoming an increasing issue with some children being asked to stay home during inspections so that they do not hinder them in anyway. Although, not as extreme as what I have previously discussed it is still worrying and can lead on to this behaviour occurring in adulthood. It does mention that children from different social classes can experience different things in life which is important to think about. Mot every child is as fortunate as others and each child is different. Children from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to act up in class and children who’s parent/parents are in prison are often confused from a young age and also have the tendency to act up. This shows how background and childhood can effect and potentially hinder a childs development and cause them to get involved with crime when they are older.

My finding suggest that “evil” as we know it comes from many different factors and how they are portrayed by each individual.

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The Factors And Origin Of Evil. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-factors-and-origin-of-evil/
“The Factors And Origin Of Evil.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-factors-and-origin-of-evil/
The Factors And Origin Of Evil. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-factors-and-origin-of-evil/> [Accessed 5 Feb. 2023].
The Factors And Origin Of Evil [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Feb 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-factors-and-origin-of-evil/
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