The experiences and war testimonies of 26,000 Colombian ex-combatants from different illegal armed groups, collected between 2003 and 2012, served for an international team of neuroscientists to explore the roots of violent behavior in human beings. Researchers Hernando Santamaría-García , director of the Neurosciences doctorate at the Javeriana University in Bogotá, and Agustín Ibáñez , director of the Center for Cognitive Neurosciences at the University of San Andrés in Buenos Aires, Argentina, used machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze the responses of former guerrillas and paramilitaries to more than 162 factors, each with at least 10 questions, related to the causes and motivations that led them to commit crimes during the conflict. "By combining these data, we could find out who among them had been violent and for what reason they had done it," explains Santamaría.
The researchers analyzed four types of violence: "appetitive violence", when violent acts are committed for pleasure; “Vengeful violence”, when it has been done in retaliation; “Impulsive or reactive violence”, when it has been due to impulse or poor behavior regulation, and “consequentialist or utilitarian violence”, when it is believed that it was necessary. Santamaría says that this is the first investigation that uses computational models with such a large sample and the one that has obtained the best precision results. “Similar works in Ghana, Syria or Burundi had smaller samples and prediction rates of 60%. We analyze the information of 90% of the total demobilized in a ten-year period of time and reach a 95% effectiveness in predicting the profile of a violent person. ”
The conclusions of this work, recently published in the scientific journal Patterns , reveal that social, economic and cultural factors were more influential in violent behaviors than individual physical or mental health factors. Santamaría tells by phone that the social adversities of former combatants, such as poverty, exclusion, inequity, discrimination, little access to health and education services, having suffered abuse in childhood or poor political participation, weighed more when committing violence than personality disorders or psychiatric illnesses
The researcher, who has spent several years trying to understand why human beings commit acts of violence, affirms that of the 20 most influential factors in the profile of the Most violent ex-combatants, 14 were social and contextual and the rest were related to mental health. "The machine learning models revealed that almost 70% of the determinants of violence depended on the context and not on the individual," says the researcher.
"Machine learning models revealed that almost 70% of the determinants of violence depended on the context and not on the individual"
Santamaría insists that there were also other key cultural factors in the generation of violent acts, such as the sense of belonging to the group. “People who said they felt more comfortable with their armed group, who felt that they were part of their family, were more likely to commit different types of violence. We found that the greater the degree of belonging, the greater the violence ”, says the scientist. And he adds: "The normalization of violence as a legitimate way to solve problems or to achieve objectives was also a more relevant social factor than biological aspects such as borderline or antisocial personality traits."
Agustín Ibáñez explains that another of the important results of the investigation was to verify that there is no factor that generates violence by itself. “None of the 162 determinants analyzed is sufficient to produce a violent act by itself. A large group of combined risk factors is necessary to generate violence ”, explains the Argentine neuroscientist. In the words of Ibáñez, this multifactorial condition shows "that any of us under certain conditions could exercise violence."
The researchers recognize that Colombia has been a historically violent country and that makes the study and the results more interesting. In the last 60 years of internal armed conflict, at least 256,000 people have been murdered, there have been 37,000 kidnappings and there is a record of more than 80,000 forced disappearances, according to data from the National Center for Historical Memory . In addition, eight million people have been forcibly displaced and combatants from different sides, including the military forces, have committed the most atrocious violence on record: massacres, dismemberment, cremation ovens, antipersonnel mines.
Santamaría affirms that The purpose of this study is to generate peacebuilding processes. “It is important that state institutions know that violence is generated by structural factors and not by isolated conditions and problems of the subjects. If this is recognized, public policies of inclusion and equity can be designed to prevent violence in the future. ”
The conclusions of the study also help to understand that in general those who commit violent acts are not simply crazy, but people who have had than to live adverse socioeconomic circumstances that trigger their violence. "The results overturn the idea that people with mental disorders are systematically violent," concludes Ibáñez.
The two scientists agree that these results help overcome Thomas Hobbes' idea that people are born violent by nature, that man it is wolf to man. "Except for subjects who have a lesion in the prefrontal cortex, who surely develop violent behaviors, the social factors of the common people tend to weigh more in violence," says Ibáñez. And he continues “But the opposite idea is also false: that it says that a simple social determinant such as poverty or discrimination can cause violence by itself. Neither extreme is real, there have to be combinations. ”
You can follow MATERIA at Facebook , Twitter e Instagram , or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter .