The cycle of violence as an ethological phenomenon



A person who has been aggressed in his childhood is more aggressive as a grown-up. There are numerous studies that confirm the fact that the harshness of children’s punishment correlates with their more impulsive and aggressive behavior.

These individuals become more hostile with those around them, including their own children. It is as if a “cycle of violence” existed, a cycle that ensures the perpetuation of abuses, both in family, and in society, from one generation to another [Widom, 1989; Maxfield, Widom, 1996].

It is interesting the fact that such a “cycle of violence” also exists in the animal world, meaning that young individuals who are being maltreated by adults become, at their turn, more aggressive towards their children when they grow up.

This phenomenon can be met even in inferior organisms as arthropods. For example, the ticks from Iphiseius degenerans species can become more aggressive under the influence of certain experiences at a young age. The individuals who are at a larva stage can be attacked by the individuals of another species; if they manage to survive the attack, they keep in mind the memory of the aggression long after metamorphosis and maturation.

By becoming grown-ups, these individuals, who have been aggressed in their “childhood” “take revenge” on the aggressors by attacking, in their turn, their larvae. The scientists have found out that the individuals, who have been aggressed at the larva stage, manifest a stronger revengeful behavior and higher aggressiveness than the ticks who haven’t been through such an experience [Choh et al., 2012].

In the animals from the superior phylogenetic classes, the “cycle of violence” is more complex and similar to that met in humans. Based on the research made on the behavior of Nazca boobies (Sula granti species), who live in colonies, a certain proof of the fact that, in animals, violence can be assimilated and forwarded from one generation to another, has been discovered.

The babies of this bird species frequently remain unattended by their parents and are undergoing repeated maltreatment from other grown-up birds, especially from females. There are grown-up individuals who intentionally walk along the seaside, buy gabapentin online searching for such lonely babies, in order to aggress or even sexually abuse them (see picture).


An adult assaulting a young stranger, biting him on the head.


As a result of these attacks, the babies are bleeding and experience a powerful stress. Afterwards, by growing up, these raging individuals become aggressors themselves and start maltreating other babies.

Based on the behavioral model of this bird species, the scientists have reconfirmed the thesis that is also viable in human’s case: the persons who have been abused in their childhood are much more likely to manifest themselves aggressively in the adulthood [Müller et al., 2011].

The studies that have been made on the ethology of dogs have also shown that the dogs, who have been trained through punitive methods (who have been hit, wretched and brutally subordinated), will be more aggressive in the future and may attack their own master [Herron et al., 2009].

The existence of the “cycle of violence” in animals suggests that the mechanisms of social education and that of acquiring traits are much more complex and have an archaic evolutionary origin. Therefore, even these phenomenon have biological foundations, and the social cultivation of aggression cannot be assigned only to human societies.


© Dorian Furtun?, ethologist



  • Choh Y., Ignacio M., Sabelis M.W., Janssen A. Predator-prey role reversals, juvenile experience and adult antipredator behavior // Scientific Reports. 2:728. 2012. doi: 10.1038/srep00728.
  • Herron M.E., Shofer F.S., Reisner I.R. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors // Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 117(1-2). 2009. P. 47.
  • Maxfield M.G., Widom C.S. The cycle of violence. Revisited 6 years later // Pediatr. Adolesc. Med. Vol. 150(4). 1996 Apr. P. 390-395.
  • Müller M.S., Porter E.T., Grace J.K., Awkerman J.A., Birchler K.T., Gunderson A.R., Schneider E.G., Westbrock M.A., Anderson D.J. Maltreated nestlings exhibit correlated maltreatment as adults: Evidence of a “cycle of violence” in Nazca Boobies (Sula granti) // The Auk. 128 (4). 2011. DOI: 1525/auk.2011.11008
  • Widom CS. The cycle of violence // Science. Vol. 16(244). 1989. P. 160-166.