Pundits Exchange Views on Arizona Tragedy and What, If Any, Research Is Needed

In the wake of the horrific shooting of twenty people, including Congresswoman Giffords, in an Arizona shopping center this weekend, many people are asking the question: Who would perform such a horrible act of violence and why? In one news report, This Week with Christiane Amanpour, George Will, Dick Armey, and Donna Brazile exchanged their views on what may have contributed to the shooting.

George Will narrowed the issue to either a political motive or madness and was critical of the search for a cause in the social environment: “What is going on right now is what goes on whenever these things happen and that is the search for the social environment to find some prompting that might have caused this …. The fact is there are 308 million people in this country and a few of them are unhinged, and that may be the final explanation of this.”

Former U. S. House Majority Leader and current Chair of FreedomWorks, Dick Armey, argued that the shooter was unbalanced and that “the answer will come from psychology and not sociology or political science, and we need to understand it.”

Donna Brazile raised the issue of whether the violent rhetoric is having an impact on people, referencing comments from Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, head of the Arizona investigation, who passionately asked how “unbalanced” people were responding to the vitriol, prejudice, and bigotry surrounding them.

Too often, we search for a quick solution to a problem that may have been years in the making. Too often, we want to drill down to biology solely or attribute events such as these to an unbalanced mind, without regard to the full context. Often, it is more complex.

Understanding and eventually preventing events such as this requires that we understand the people who commit such acts in a broad context -- biology, psychology, and social context. Scientists must understand – for both normal and abnormal behavior -- what is happening in the brain, how the mind processes neutral and emotionally-laden information, changes at critical developmental periods, and the influence of social environment or social isolation on cognition, emotion, personality, and biology. Fortunately, this work is underway.

The federal government currently supports research to understand the many factors that contribute to human behavior. This is an important and appropriate role for the federal government because it affects the well-being of its citizens and, in turn, the strength of our country. It is not easily translated into a product or a job, but it is critical to our functioning as a society.

Research that aims to understand the full range of human behavior – including fundamental research that is not attached to a particular outcome but which will tell us, for example, how people make decisions to behave in particular ways, to applied research that eventually ties this fundamental knowledge to real world settings. The federal government must continue to invest in research that will, over time, answer these questions. It is not only appropriate, but as this segment and the tragedy prompting it shows, is much needed.

Watch This Week Segment »