Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is It Time to Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease?

The idea that violence is contagious doesn’t appear in the Obama administration’s gun control plan, nor in the National Rifle Association’s arguments. But some scientists believe that understanding the literally infectious nature of violence is essential to preventing it.

To say violence is a sickness that threatens public health isn’t just a figure of speech, they argue. It spreads from person to person, a germ of an idea that causes changes in the brain, thriving in certain social conditions.

A century from now, people might look back on violence prevention in the early 21st century as we now regard the primitive cholera prevention efforts in the early 19th century, when the disease was considered a product of filth and immorality rather than a microbe.
“It’s extremely important to understand this differently than the way we’ve been understanding it,” said Gary Slutkin, a University of Chicago epidemiologist who founded Cure Violence, an anti-violence organization that treats violence as contagion. “We need to understand this as a biological health matter and an epidemiologic process.”

Slutkin helped organize a National Academies of Science workshop that in October published “The Contagion of Violence,” a 153-page report on the state of his field’s research.

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