Carnegie Mellon University
November 27, 2019

NOVA Examines the History of Violence

By Stacy W. Kish

Why are humans so violent? It is a long-standing question, with war, mass shootings and genocide on the news every day. It may be shocking to hear that some scientists believe our species is becoming more peaceful. This paradox was explored by “NOVA” on Wednesday, Nov. 20. The program can be viewed online.

Taking clues from a Kenyan archaeology site, modern laboratory experiments and even literature, researchers share with “NOVA” to trace the social and neurobiological roots of human violence. They look at how forces like income equality and personal contact may curb violence in modern societies. 

During the program, CMU’s Simon DeDeo, assistant professor in the Social and Decision Sciences Department, discusses a computer program used to scan more than 197,000 trial records from 1674-1913 from the Central Criminal Court of London. The records exemplify the largest body of recorded speech anywhere in the world. DeDeo’s program identified the instance of key words, like “cut,” “thrust,” “lunge,” “kick” and “punch.” This technique allowed the team to identify patterns of violence in the written trial records. The analysis allowed the researchers to evaluate how the words spoken in court reflected attitudes towards violence.