The Science Of Evil

Researchers have been dealing with evil for decades. In doing so, they have already found out a lot of important things. But today nobody has been able to isolate a single factor that defines evil. Instead, we need to accept that people who do evil things are very similar to all of us. Much more similar than we’d like to admit.
The science of evil

Many researchers have tried to dig deeper into the science of evil in order to find the causes of evil in humans. Hence, neuroscience has also studied the brains of people who do bad things. Similarly, many social psychologists have designed experiments with the same goal.

What we know for sure is that we seem to have a desire to know what bad people are hiding and how different they are. As a species, we seem to be relentlessly searching for that difference.

Maybe we are looking for these answers to avoid getting angry ourselves. Or maybe we want to make sure that we are really different. Perhaps there is a physical factor that defines who gets good and who gets bad. 

Despite the fact that science has found some clues as to how people become bad people, to this day there is still no clear answer to the question of where evil in people comes from.

So it doesn’t seem easy to separate the good from the bad. In fact, it seems that bad people are more like good people than we’d like.

In this article, we’re going to look at the possible factors that determine whether a person will turn bad or behave badly. There has been more than forty years of research on this question. Indeed, it appears that scientists have succeeded in isolating certain factors that condemn individuals to do evil. Let’s take a closer look at this topic.

The Science of Evil: Man in the Shadows

The Science of Evil: The Quality of Attachment

One of the factors that seems to predict the evil is the type of attachment that was developed in childhood. Research on personality disorders in adults shows a high level of abuse and emotional neglect in the early phases of life in those affected.

Of course, this alone is not enough to turn someone into an evil person. But it seems to be a common denominator in many cases. Research shows that childhood emotional abuse is at least one barrier to developing the ability to care for others.

Even so, this factor does not fully explain why some people are bad and do bad things. There are also bad people who don’t seem to have been molested as children.

At the same time, no one who had a bad childhood automatically becomes angry. Hence, it would be reductionist to point to this factor as the sole cause.

The science of evil: biology

British geneticists have found that the presence of the MAOA gene can increase the risk of behavioral disorder. Not only that, it could also be related to teenage and adult crime.

Research on this, conducted by psychologist Avshalom Caspi, also showed an interaction of this gene with child abuse. In other words, we have another example of how our biology can be affected by the environment.

Another biological factor that may have to do with the science of evil is testosterone levels. The amount of testosterone a baby is exposed to while in the womb appears to affect the development of the empathy circuit in the human brain.

The science of evil: the dark side of man

Julia Shaw, a brilliant criminal psychologist, recently published her research in a book that explores the question of why people are bad or do bad things. Shaw looked at neuroscientific studies to arrive at their conclusions.

It appears that people who do evil have less activity in the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. This factor seems to lead to what Shaw calls a process of dehumanization.

This type of anomaly, combined with a degree of paranoia influenced by a culture that seems directionless, results in people being able to do bad things.

At the same time, Shaw analyzes what psychologists call “the dark triad”: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. The criminal psychologist adds another feature to these characteristics: sadism. The presence of these traits is more likely to result in a destructive personality type that acts nastily more quickly. 

Science of evil.  Man in profile

Monsters are made, not born

When we look at all of the existing literature on the science of evil, it quickly becomes clear that we cannot definitely say whether some people were born evil. There is not a single factor that is present from birth that makes a person evil.

On the contrary, evil seems to evolve over time. The factors that determine whether or not someone will be angry seem to be environmental.

The brilliant experiments of Philip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram and other researchers have shown us how easy it is for good people to do bad things. Her experiments showed how certain conditions profoundly affected people and made them act in surprising and disturbing ways.

In other words, what often distinguishes good behavior from bad behavior is not down to the person performing it, but rather to the circumstances in which the person is found. Of course, our aim is not to justify evil deeds, but to understand how it comes about that people do evil.

The science of evil seems to suggest that there are many variables that affect how people act. And not all of them are due to human predisposition.

So we don’t seem to be one step closer to finding a “devilish personality disorder”. Hence, the goal of current research should be to find preventive measures that will prevent people from doing evil. 

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