Facts Shape Feelings: An Information-Based Framework for Emotional Responses to Violence

Abstract

Why don’t all survivors of violence become angry at perpetrators? When survivors are not angry at perpetrators, what emotions do they express? To answer these questions while protecting respondent privacy, I use topic modeling to analyze transcripts of original, in-depth interviews with relatives of homicide victims in Chicago, IL. I find substantial diversity in the emotions that surviving relatives express, and the way they attribute blame. I argue that these differences can be explained by variation in the clarity of information survivors have about identity and motive of the perpetrator, and variation in perception of circumstances that mitigate perpetrator responsibility. To compare across contexts, I suggest that the difficulty of attaining clarity depends on the relevance and strength of shared political narratives that predetermine causal attributions about violence. Interview evidence shows that the widely-assumed human tendency to respond to violations/injuries with anger and vengefulness depends heavily on context.

Aidan Milliff
Aidan Milliff
Ph.D. Candidate