'Mock Trails' As A Way To Reduce Violence?

For some time, I’ve been arguing that if we are going to be serious about combating violence in this country, it’s past time to stop blaming the gun and to start looking at combatting the actual causes of violence.

Well, one of the main causes of violence is revenge.

A lot of gang warfare stems from revenge. Someone disrespected someone else, so now that someone else has to show he’s not a punk by shooting the guy. That leads to another person trying to get revenge, and so on.

It’s not just a facet of life in the inner city, either. Revenge is a common enough motive for murder at all strata of society, from the poorest of the poor to the very wealthy.

Yet a new study has found an interesting way to reduce the desire for revenge.

While gun control efforts have proved politically problematic, “motive control” efforts that focus on decreasing or eliminating the desire to kill may represent a more widely accepted approach to reducing violence in society, the authors argue in a study published Dec. 19 in the The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

A mock trial gives victims of perceived injustice a safe, socially-accepted outlet for their feelings of rage and desire for revenge,” said Yale’s Michael Rowe, professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study. “It also gives them a sense of empowerment and control, and the opportunity to explore the situation from different viewpoints and to evaluate the costs of retaliating.”

The researchers canvassed clinicians, community health centers and other agencies to find individuals who struggled with a strong desire for revenge within the previous six months. They identified 21 such individuals and then guided each of them through a mock trial of a person who harmed them in a fictional scenario involving the killing of their dog.

It’s very powerful,” said James Kimmel, Jr., a lawyer, lecturer in psychiatry at Yale and co-author of the study. “Revenge desires among study participants decreased significantly immediately after using the method and at 2-week follow-up. Feelings of benevolence toward the offender increased. We were encouraged by the potency and durability of the effect.”

It’s an interesting development. It’s also refreshing to see research dedicated to combating the causes of violence rather than just screeching about the need for gun control. After all, revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it can be served with anything that can be used as a weapon.

But by looking at the motive itself, the presence of a firearm becomes moot. You don’t need to worry about a gun if someone isn’t inclined to use it.

All that said, this is far from an answer. For one thing, psychology has a problem with being able to reproduce results. Over half of all psychological studies fail when researchers try to reproduce the results. Before we can tell that mock trials will even consistently work, we need more studies that show these kinds of things will reduce the desire for revenge.

Even after that’s done, however, we have another problem. Namely, just how in the name of all that is holy do you actually apply this to the real world? I doubt you’re going to convince gang members to convene mock trials to reduce violence. Further, there needs to be some way to account for external stimuli on people feeling a desire for revenge.

After all, it’s all fine and good to make it so that Joe doesn’t feel the overwhelming need to kill Bill, but what happens when Steve starts calling Joe a punk because he’s not gunning for Bill anymore?

In other words, this is a great idea, but I don’t see how it can be practically applied in a large number of cases. Still, it’s good to see that the issue is being looked at and that there’s a potential for stopping at least some violence. The roots of violence in this country are complex, so there’s not likely to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Mock trials, if future studies show this holds true as well, can be useful in dealing with a lot of cases, and that will be a big help.

It also means there’s a potential way to stop even more violence before it ever occurs, and do it without infringing on the rights of law-abiding Americans.