Social Policy on Violence and How It Relates to the Neurological Theory

Understanding the relationship between individual violence and substance use is one that needs to be addressed. This can be done especially through the social policy that puts human welfare at the realm of policy implementation, while addressing human violence. In this regard, it is important for the policy makers and the society as a whole to be endowed with the ability to articulate and ascertain others’ believes, desires, perceptions, and intentions. This is part of cognitive science. It is based on the premise that the theory of mind helps in understanding the state of people’s minds in relation to others. In so doing, the theory of mind (ToM) becomes a caregiver-informant measure that can be used in studies in assessing the effects of violence on victims. This can be useful in the context of intervention, as it can help to establish why teenagers are more likely to abuse substances or drugs in comparison to other age groups. This paper offers theoretical perspective in the application of the theory of mind in understanding why victims of violence are more likely to turn out to be substance or drug abusers, as compared to others.

Social policy normally refers to guidelines, legislations, principles, and activities that are incorporated to enhance the living conditions that promote human welfare. It is, therefore, an interdisciplinary and applied subject that is usually concerned with analyzing the response of the society to the social needs. The social policy on violence, especially domestic violence, is a policy framework that was incorporated to understand the structure of a community context may shape up the way a victim of violence labels or responds to his or her experiences. Studies have shown that most of the victims of violence, especially teenagers, are likely to abuse drugs (Flannery & Huff, 2006). It is based on the fact that this social policy was designed to help to free the lives of the victims of violence, especially teenagers and women.

This policy was necessitated by the fact that there was an increasing recognition of the many negative consequences of exposure to violence. In addition, very little had been done in examining the effect of violence victimization experienced in the community of adolescents and women affected by substance’s use (Pinchevsky, Wright & Fagan, 2013). Statistically, as pointed out by Pinchevsky, Wright & Fagan (2013), in 2008, the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence noted that 60% of youth were exposed to violence either directly or indirectly. They, thus, had a high likelihood of engaging into binge drinking or taking of marijuana. This policy functions by offering substance abuse/domestic violence victims treatment through the functioning of the Substance Abuse/Domestic Violence Committee. The committee offers a combination of treatment and support strategies.

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However, there are still challenges being faced in the implementation of this social policy. The policy has had to face a negative attitude and limited understanding by the targeted stakeholders. This has given substance abuse treatment a low priority. In addition, the operation of substance abuse treatment has historically been done outside of the healthcare mainstream, causing a lot of challenges in coordination. Finally, there has been a far less public funding for such programs, of which is less than what is needed. All these factors have resulted into the current gap that exists between the need for treatment and availability of such services. However, this study will narrow down its scope to look at the way this social policy relates to the neurological theory, especially to the theory of mind.

The Theory of Mind (ToM) is a neurological theory within cognitive science that investigates the way human beings ascribe mental states to other people, and the way they use such states in explaining and predicting the actions being taken by other people (Lantz, 2012). In essence, ToM theory normally explains individuals’ behavior in terms of cognitive states and processes. This implies that the theory of mind can help in interpreting the minds of victims of violence and establish those, who are more likely to abuse substances. It is done in terms of theoretical concepts of intentional states, such as beliefs and desires. It is important to point out that there is a deficit that normally occurs to people with neurotoxicity. This explains why they are not endowed with the ability to attribute their mental states to themselves and others. Thus, it becomes difficult for them to understand that others have different beliefs, desires, and intentions. This is clearly the effect of alcohol or substance abuse. It is based on the fact that this paper offers theoretical perspective in the application of the theory of mind in understanding why victims of violence are more likely to turn out to be substance or drug abusers, as compared to others, and especially during their adolescent stage.

Normally, the mind is comprised of beliefs, desires, emotions, intentions, and perceptions. The theory of mind has been established as having the ability to attribute these mental states to one’s self and others in order to understand and predict an individual’s behavior. In this case, the fact that there has been an increasing rate of marijuana use and the abuse of other substances among today’s youth, as noted by Miech & Koester (2012), has presented the theory of mind as an essential tool. The theory can be used in identifying the areas of strengths and weaknesses in an individual’s social-cognitive profile in order to identify appropriate developmental targets for treatment. This is essential in addressing the impact of domestic violence on substance use.

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As earlier been pointed out, 60% of the youth, who were exposed to violence in their prior years either directly by being the victims of violence or indirectly by being a witness of violence, recorded increased rate of substance abuse. This was the same in the case of those, who confirmed knowing someone, who had been victimized (Pinchevsky, Wright & Fagan, 2013). Similarly, Miech & Koester (2012) noted that based on their research, “the increasing rate of past-marijuana use among young is more consistent with a general increase in marijuana use across all age groups that it is with a cohort-specific influence unique to the youngest cohorts” (265). This is an indication that there is a need for the application of such theories as the theory of mind in addressing this issue.

Researches done in clinical psychology can help in understanding the application of the theory of mind. Autism is usually the most severe psychiatric impairment that can occur during the early stages of development. Its symptoms range from anomalies in social communication and absence of imagination to lack of capacity to involve in social activities and isolation. These symptoms can almost lead to the total impairment of cognitive functions (Lantz, 2012). Normally, in a typical development, a two-year-old child would pretend to play and demonstrate some understanding of pretense, which is not the case for a two-years-old kid with autism. For such a child, his or her play tends to be limited to the exploration of the physical aspects of toys. This is also the very aspect of those young people, who at their earlier stages, either directly or indirectly, suffered the consequences of violence. Such children would only engage into activities that make them be more physical or violent, such as substance abuse. The very aspect of the theory of mind that can help us in understanding this is the false-beliefs.

The false belief tasks can be described as a period between a stage of the child’s development, where children tend to have a sort of “transparent” reading of mind and reality, and the stage, where they show capacity of having an “opaque” reading of mind and reality. This aspect is important in understanding the domain specific ability in dealing with mentality concepts such as belief, especially as evident by victims of violence, of which becomes their urge to take part in substance abuse. In interaction theory, normally, the minds of others are directly perceived during an inter-subjective encounter. This was evident in the research conducted by Glyn Humphreys and Jo Bedford. The study was on “The relations between joint action and theory of mind: a neuropsychological analysis” (2011).

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In this study, Humphreys & Bedfords (2011) examine the relations between the joint action and the theory of mind in neurological patients with impairments in ToM, control patients, who passed ToM tasks, and non-lesions controls. This experiment was based on a “Social Simon” procedure, where spatial compatibility effects, which participants performed in isolation or alongside each other, were tested under forced-choice and go/no-go conditions. During the first experiment, the patients with impaired ToM showed evidence of increased spatial compatibility effects. This was unlike the control participants, with whom these effects disappeared under joint action condition (Humphreys & Bedfords, 2011). In experiment two, where ToM patients were asked to pay particular attention to the co-actor, the patients with lesions of posterior parietal cortex showed sustained spatial compatibility effete in joint action condition. This was different to ToM patient with lesions that primarily involve frontal regions, who showed initial effect of spatial compatibility that decreased across trails.

Therefore, it was clear from these data that there is an interactive relationship between ToM processing and joint actions effect, which, on the other hand, relates to the way individuals have an ability to attend to appropriate social cues. This was evident among the patients affected in posterior parietal. This understanding will help in recruiting sufficient resources that can be used in coding another’s action, as in the case of those, affected in frontal patients; thereby, addressing the issue of violence and substance abuse.

For people to achieve a common goal ranging from coordination of actions between members of a certain group to individuals passing an object such as drugs to another, they must interact. However, this interaction is based on the joint action that represents a common goal, and on the other’s action, as it relates to the goal (Humphreys & Bedfords, 2011). Normally, the ability to represent other people’s belief, desires, and intentions, as in the case of victims of violence, can be looked at from the functional and neural organization of the theory of mind process, especially in adults. At the neural level, Humphreys & Bedfords (2011) note that the involvement of an extensive fronto-parieto-temporal network brain region should never be interrupted. Any damage to it can result into a deficit of ToM, which can lead to insensitivity of joint action. This can especially be evident, when two individuals participate in a common experiment. This helps in understanding why victims of violence are more likely to resort to substance abuse in comparison to those, who have not been victimized by the vice.

Samson et al. (2007) argues that since patients with lesions affecting posterior parietal cortex (PPC) and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) in the brain failed on ToM tasks, it was an indication that they had failed on forms of false-beliefs. This was because they lacked sufficient processing resources that could support their ability to infer another person’s belief or intentions. It implies that any damage to the brain’s PPC/TPJ can affect the processes that are essential in making ToM inferences, such as taking note of key social cues that indicate another person’s cognitive state. This aspect is evident in the theoretical explanations, since gender differences are related to exposure to violence and substance abuse.

While theoretically it has been suggested that gender differences exist in the effects of exposure to violence, there is lack of substantial empirical studies that have examined this issue. Whereas feminist theories have noted that early traumatic experience or victimization and exposure to violence has made many females engage in survival strategies including illegal activities, they are less clear, when it comes to substance use. This is due to the fact that such theories do not explain whether or not the exposure to neighborhood violence can result into illegal behavior, especially substance abuse. In this case, such theories and other empirical studies lack essential resources that can promote the process of understanding other people’s intentions or actions. It is based on the fact that the theory of mind offers a more structural way of enhancing joint actions in order to address the issues related to violence and substance abuse.


In conclusion, the social policy on violence, especially that on domestic violence, was established in order to address human behaviors that affect their welfare, such as substance abuse. Whereas this policy is essential, the lack of empirical studies on the theoretical aspect of violence and its impact on substance use has only led victims of such activities into false-belief. Therefore, it has failed in enhancing the theory of mind (ToM) that set out the ability to articulate other’s intentions, beliefs, or desires. Just like autism disorder that indicates ineffective social communication as a result of a deficit of the theory of mind, lack of essential resources, such as empirical studies and funds towards substance treatment, has affected the manner, in which the victims of violence seem to code socially significant cues. Therefore, it is imperative that the implementers should ensure that any policy to be implemented has the ability to represent the intention of other people.

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