Violence is the New Black

Thursday evening, June 18, 2015, I saw Charleston Shooting at the top of the trending bar on Facebook. Nine people shot dead in a church by a 21-year-old young man. It is disturbing that stories like this are becoming so abundant. The Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary, and now Charleston. I think the relationship of violence with the media should be considered. What is the psychology of violence? How does the media affect people? I think everyone, myself included, should be more educated about this topic on a psychological level so we can understand others and ourselves better.


The Shooter

I could write volumes about each of the recent years’ mass shootings and outbreaks of violence in the U.S. However, I will focus on the most recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

According to CNN, one of the survivors, Sylvia Johnson, said her friend’s son pleaded with the shooter to stop.

The gunman replied: “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country   … I have to do what I have to do.” He then shot the young man along with the eight others.

Before he left the church, he asked one of the elderly members whether he had shot her, and she said no.

So he said “Good because we need a survivor because I am going to kill myself,” Johnson told CNN. Johnson survived by pretending to be dead.

A law enforcement official said witnesses told authorities the gunman stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people.”dylann roof

According to the New York Times, a website was discovered June 20, 2015 appearing to have an inside look at Dylann Roof’s thinking. The site includes how the case of Trayvon Martin triggered his racist rage. The site shows photographs, many of them of Roof at Confederate heritage sites or slavery museums and includes a nearly 2,500-word manifesto in which Roof criticized blacks as being inferior.

In the manifesto, Roof wrote: “The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words ‘black on white crime’ into Google, and I have never been the same since that day.”

“I have no choice,” it reads. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

“This whole racist thing came into him within the past five years,” said Caleb Brown, a childhood friend of Roof’s, who is half African-American. “He was never really popular; he accepted that. He wasn’t like: ‘When I grow up I am going to show all these kids.’ He accepted who he was, and who he was changed, obviously.”


Violence In Psychology

I want to look into where violence comes from in the mind. There are two areas of the brain that are the primary triggers of violent behavior. They are the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex.

According to Neuroscience Online, the amygdala is the center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. The nucleus of the amygdala produces autonomic components of emotion (e.g., changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration). The nucleus of the amygdala also provides perception of emotion. It has been found that stimulation of the amygdala results in intense emotions such as fear or aggression. The amygdala combines many different sensory inputs and stimuli. These links give us those subjective feelings, about what is good and what is bad.

In other words, the amygdala has a  prominent role in mental states and is related to many psychological disorders. According to Science Daily in 2006, researchers observed hyperactivity (stimulation) in the amygdala when patients were shown threatening faces or situations.  Patients with greater social phobia or anxiety showed a correlation with increased stimulation. Similarly, depressed patients showed exaggerated left amygdala activity when interpreting emotions for faces, and especially for fearful faces. Stimulation of the amygdala was normalized when patients received antidepressant medication. According to Biological Psychiatry, in 2003 study subjects with borderline personality disorder showed significantly greater left amygdala activity than normal control subjects. Some borderline patients even had difficulties classifying neutral faces or saw them as threatening. NCBI says individuals with psychopathy show reduced autonomic responses, relative to comparison individuals, to instructed fear cues. amygdala and frontal cortex

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is in the frontal lobe of the brain and is instrumental in the cognitive processing of decision-making. According to Nature Reviews Neuroscience the human OFC is among the least-understood regions of the human brain; but it has been proposed that the OFC is involved in sensory integration, in representing the effective value of reinforcement, and in decision-making.

When OFC connections are disrupted, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional effects may surface. Research supports that the main disorders associated with a deregulated OFC centers around decision-making, emotion regulation, and reward expectation. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and disorders with symptoms of lacking impulse control have been implicated in dysfunction of OFC systems.


Media Effects

With better understanding of these physical contributors to individual behavior, I cannot help but to think of the research effects I’ve learned from my Mass Media Theories and Society class in college. There are two media effects that may contribute to these recent outbreaks of violence. They are called the facilitating effect and social contagion.

The facilitating effect is the idea that when angry people watch media violence, they are more likely to behave aggressively. According to Media Research Effects, the idea was studied by Leonard Berkowitz. Berkowitz believed images from mass media led to activating associated thoughts and actions like the events witnessed, read about, or heard.

Social contagion is the effect of emotion spreading rapidly through large crowds, leading us to extremes. Examples of this are seen in crowds at football games and the relatively recent Ebola scare in the U.S.


The Victims

Before I go on to give my thoughts on the previous information, I think it is important to give names to the victims just as the suspect.

charleston victims

Rev. Clementa Pinckney was the much loved and respected pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was a servant of God and the people for 23 years. He was 41 years old.

Rev. Sheronda Singleton was a speech and track coach at Goose Creek High School. She was married with one son. She was 45 years old.

Cynthia Hurd worked at the Charleston Public Library for 31 years. She was passionate about education and personal growth for others. She was 54 years old.

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor was an admissions coordinator at the Charleston learning center Southern Wesleyan University with a Masters degree in management. She’s described as being a warm and enthusiastic leader.

Ethel Lance was an operations manager at Gaillard Auditorium. She was also a city worker for 24 years.

Tywanza Sanders was a recent graduate from Allan University with a degree in Business Administration. He’s described as being a quiet, but well-known student committed to his education. He was 26 years old.

Susie Jackson was a long-time member of the Church and liked to sing in the choir. Her grandson describes her as being helpful and giving with a great smile. She was 87 years old.

Myra Thompson loved God and taught Bible study at the church. She was 59 years old.

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. was on staff when the shooting occurred. He was a long time servant of the church and God. He survived the initial shooting but later died during surgery. He was 74 years old.


My Interpretation

Events like the Charleston shooting can be prevented. For the same thought, some argue gun laws should be more restricting. Tighter gun restrictions may be a good idea. However looking deeper into the issue, it is the people not the weapons that should be examined. Media should be more sensitive to the effects it has on a society that’s lacking value for mental health.

It was mentioned by Roof’s friend that he was not really popular, but wanted to prove his peers wrong. He felt like he belonged with the KKK, skinheads, and racists he talked with online only just after discovering the Trayvon Martin case in February 2012. He felt so passionate about his “cause” that he said he would kill himself for it.

I do not have a Ph.D. in psychology. However, looking over what Roof said during the shootings and in his manifesto, I think he was psychologically ill for a long time. His misperception of his emotions, the way he reacted to the Trayvon Martin case, his misjudgment of what right and wrong is, the poor impulsive decisions he made all confirm dysfunctions in his amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. As read earlier, dysfunctions in these areas are connected to mental disorders such as borderline personality disorder, psychopathy, anxiety, depression, and ADHD, which all seem possible for Roof to be suffering from. Also read earlier or just basic psychology, these disorders can be normalized with treatment.

I am afraid if mental health and disorders are not taken more seriously, more people like Dylann Roof will be vulnerable to highly publicized mass violence in the media. The facilitating effect was clearly a contributor when Roof discovered the Trayvon Martin case. Learning of the widely-spread story led him to research more on the case and other race-driven crimes, finding himself changed for the worse.

trayvon martin/ george zimmerman

Social contagion seems to not only affect Roof, but everyone in the country. From the Trayvon Martin case in Ferguson to the murder of Freddie Gray, to the Baltimore riots, and now Charleston has been affected by violence in media.baltimore riots

It would be unreasonable to say the media should stop reporting these events, but media should be more selective in what it shows to the world. The media industry should be aware of the effects it’s information has on all people that may see it. Instead of focusing on the aggressor, the focus should be on the victims and the effects violence has on them. The causes and consequences of these events are not being shown nearly enough, besides the suspect having their name in digital lights.



  • Do you agree or disagree that violence in the media influences others? Why?
  • How do you feel psychology and mental health are handled in society compared to standard medicine?


Further reading links and citations

Wright, Anthony, Ph. D. “Limbic System: Amygdala (Section 4, Chapter 6) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy – The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.” Neuroscience Online. UT Health, n.d. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

“Amygdala: Neuropsychological correlates of amygdala activity.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

“Orbitofrontal Cortex: Functions.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

Ellis, Ralph. “Charleston Church Shooting Suspect Arrested in N.C. –” CNN. Cable News Network, 18 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015. <>.

Robles, Frances. “Dylann Roof Photos and a Manifesto Are Posted on Website.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015. <®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=2>.

Melvin, Don. “Charleston Victims: 9 Lives Lost to Family and Community.”CNN. Cable News Network, 20 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015. <>.


Sub-citations (Wikipedia) and Texts

Monash University. (2006, January 19). Studying Brain Activity Could Aid Diagnosis Of Social Phobia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 24, 2015, from

Donegan, Nelson H., Ph. D. “Amygdala Hyperreactivity in Borderline Personality Disorder: Implications for Emotional Dysregulation.”Biological Psychiatry. Elsevier Inc., 6 June 2003. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

Blair, R.J. R. “The Amygdala and Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex: Functional Contributions and Dysfunction in Psychopathy.” NCBI. The Royal Society, 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 24 June 2015. <>.

Kringelbach, M. L. (2005) “The orbitofrontal cortex: linking reward to hedonic experience.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6: 691-702.

Sparks, Glenn G. Media Effects Research: A Basic Overview. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.



Snyder/Reuters, Brian. Charleston Confronts Its Racial History – The Boston Globe. 2015. Charleston, N.C. Web. 24 June 2015. <>.

How Evolution Works. N.d. Truth Saves. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

N.d. Vos Iz Neias. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

Charleston Shooting Victims. 2015. CNN. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman. N.d. CBS News. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.

  1. Baltimore.The Conservative Treehouse. Web. 22 June 2015. <>.



Edited by – Musingu



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