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Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies

Recent research and FBI and CDC data suggest there is a single, common motive for many forms of violence: the perpetrator’s desire to achieve personal justice to avenge past wrongs and injustices. Thus if we can develop strategies and interventions for controlling the desire to retaliate in response to victimization, we should see reductions in violence.

The Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies is engaged in research and knowledge development activities to increase understanding of the role of the desire for justice and retaliation as a root cause of individual and community violence and suffering. We study, develop, and disseminate motive control approaches for preventing and treating violence and victimization.

Our current research focuses on a motive control approach is called The Nonjustice System/NJS (“nonjustice” = to abstain from seeking justice in the form of revenge). This method uses a guided role-play to lead victims of injustice through a “mock trial” and imagined punishment of their transgressors. The process allows victims to safely gratify and release their desire for revenge while also considering the consequences of revenge-seeking and alternative options for healing.

Participants in a pilot study of the NJS showed statistically significant decreased revenge desires and increased benevolence toward their transgressors—outcomes that could help prevent violence. Importantly, the findings held up weeks after the intervention. Additionally, in open-ended in-depth interviews participants spoke of having an enhanced sense of self and other, a greater ability to think through the potential consequences of their feelings, and of being empowered by their participation in the NJS.

Our current work includes adaptation of the NJS for adolescents and young adults in collaboration with the Clifford Beers Guidance Clinic in New Haven, and development of ‘community nonjustice courts’ to empower individuals and communities to address violence outside state and federal court systems that have not served them well. We are also planning other studies, including the capacity of the model to address gun violence in part through motive control intervention, in addition to gun control legislation and enforcement.

(Please contact the co-directors, below, if you are interested in learning more about the NJS.)

Co-Directors of the Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies

James P. Kimmel, Jr., JD
Lecturer in Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine