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Transitional processes culminating in extreme violence

Donald G. Dutton (Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 13 January 2012




This paper seeks to review transitional processes that foster transitions from non‐aggression to extreme aggression. Most studies on aggression focus either on traits within violent individuals or social contexts that generate violence, less attention has been paid to transitional mechanisms.


The paper reviews “long‐term”, i.e. societal transitions that occur prior to and during genocides; mid‐term transitions such as induction into a military or paramilitary societies; and short‐term (situational) transitions that occur in situ. It reviews alterations in emotion, cognition, and behaviour that occur in these transitions and concludes with a description of the generated output behaviours of an extreme and often sadistic nature.


The paper concludes with a review of Nell's “Pain‐Blood‐Death” complex as a hypothetical inherited disposition that may be triggered by any or all of these transitional processes leading to cruel aggression.


The paper raises new concerns about the conceptualizing of extreme violence purely as an outcome of individual pathology and posits instead that a potential for cruelty may be part of our sociobiological heritage as a species. Furthermore, this potential may be tapped into by exposure to toxic war situations resulting in the manifestation of cruel and inhumane treatment of outgroups by soldiers from disparate societies and eras.



Dutton, D.G. (2012), "Transitional processes culminating in extreme violence", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 45-53.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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