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Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies

Gun violence requires two things: a) a gun + b) a mental motive or desire to use it to harm others. To reduce gun violence, we can try to decrease access to guns (gun control). But, often overlooked, we can also try to decrease the motivation or desire of individuals to use guns to harm others — motive control.

Recent research and FBI and CDC data suggest that 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. Neuroscience studies have revealed that the desire to punish transgressors in response to perceived victimization activates the same reward processing centers of the brain that activate for narcotics addiction. If we can develop strategies and interventions for controlling the desire to retaliate in response to victimization, it follows that we should experience 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 behavioral health motive control approaches for preventing and treating violence and victimization.

Our current research focuses on a motive control approach called The Nonjustice System (“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 recent study of The Nonjustice System (the results of which will be published in the December 2018 issue of The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law) 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. A copy of The Nonjustice System is available by clicking here.

We are planning future studies of The Nonjustice System and are eager to collaborate on this and other motive control approaches. Please support this potentially lifesaving research! Together we can make a difference! To donate online, please visit the Yale School of Medicine online donation page and indicate in the comment/instruction box that your donation is for “PRCH/Motive Control.” To make any other form of donation, please email Zsuzsanna Somogyi, Senior Director for Development at the Yale School of Medicine, or call 203-436-8559.

Co-Directors of the Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies

Michael Rowe, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine

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