Willy, beat and death: the cognitive mechanisms of violence

Willy, beat and death: the cognitive mechanisms of violence

Willy, beat and death. The pathological drift of the use of violence has cognitive motivations: understanding them can help avert these tragedies

Violence from a cognitive point of view is the product of a person’s cognitive patterns mediated by the theory of information processing. Esther Calvete and Izaskun Orue a few years ago published a study where they explain the cognitive assumptions of violent behavior.

Cognitive schemes – F. Bartlett

A cognitive schema is a pattern of thinking and behavior that organizes information and the relationships between it. It acts on an unconscious level, so once internalized it requires complex work to be modified. The cognitive schemes theorized by Frederic Bartlett have shown that the unconscious is not neutral, but depends on our emotional experience.

In short, there are people for whom violence falls within a range of accepted behavioral responses. These people can do it without filters.

Please note. Practicing wrestling sports does not mean accepting violence, to the point of making it an automatic pattern of our actions. In sports, the direction is not that of transgression but that of control. So it’s useless to demonize the gyms, the monsters are elsewhere.

Social Information Processing (SIP) Theory – KA Dodge

This theory explains the way we act in social contexts. It has often been used in the history of psychology to explain the violent behaviors of children and adolescents. The process leading to action is divided into 5 stages:

  1. Social context analysis: at this stage you try to read the situation, what others are doing and what intentions they have
  2. Interpretation: why do other people behave like this? Are they provoking you?
  3. Generate possible behavioral responses: in this phase the person searches for behaviors in his experiential baggage to react to the situation he is experiencing
  4. Choose: I consider the pros and cons of implementing one of the imagined behaviors
  5. Act: I implement the chosen behavior

People who act violently, in the second stage (interpretation) attribute hostile intentions to others. Warning! It is irrelevant if the number (5 against 1) or the size (one boy against 5 thugs) cancel out any possible danger: if I attribute to other hostile intentions the probability that the subsequent phases end with the implementation of violent behavior increases.

Schemes and information processing

Cognitive schemas operate on a deeper level than information processing theory. There are people for whom violence will never be an option. These people, in addition to not behaving violently, will underestimate the likelihood that others will be violent against them.

Perhaps this is precisely the case with Willy. When he left to defend Federico, his friend, Willy did not imagine such a violent response to him.

Simply put, the violent fear violence because they are ready to use it and the fear of violence increases their aggression. For non-violent people, the situation is different. They do not even imagine where the fury of those who use violence can go, and for this reason they underestimate it.

Underestimating the violence unleashed by a herd is sometimes fatal.

Narcissism where everything is due

In the study by Calvete and Orue it is also said that a narcissistic personality is more prone to engage in violent behavior.

The cognitive schemes of the narcissist involve the belief that everything is due to him. The others are emptied of their importance and downgraded to objects to be used for their own gain. The link between narcissism and aggression had already been hypothesized by Baumeister in 1996: “When people with an excessive opinion of themselves are questioned by others, they become aggressive and in some cases violent”.

Violence would be the result of the arrogance of believing that you are better than others. The others are small, insignificant, nothing compared to you. This kind of sick reasoning can kill. Today he did it with blows and the victim is poor Willy. Other times it does so with psychological violence, massacring the mental stability of those who enter the orbit of this delusion.

Thinking that you are better than others and that you can treat others as you believe, in retaliation is synonymous with weakness: it’s just a way to escape confrontation. Like the fox who, unable to reach grapes, says he does not want them because it is unripe. So the narcissist rejects the even match because he could lose.

Feeling like others, working and living with them while remaining at their level is, however, very complicated. It takes healthy self-esteem, patience and the courage to take risks.

The strength it takes to throw a punch is nothing compared to what it takes to try to prevent it.


E. Calvete & I. Orue. Cognitive Schemas and Aggressive Behavior in Adolescents: The Mediating Role of Social Information Processing (2010)