Evolutionary Emotional Intelligence for Social Workers: Status and the Psychology of Group Violence


  • Boyd Patterson Jr. M.A., J.D.; Youth Violence Prosecutor Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office and former Gang Task Force Coordinator Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office/City of Chattanooga; United States of America


Social Workers, Evolutionary Emotional Intelligence, Group Violence, Gang Task Force


The significance of status

Between nations and across cultures, threats to the social status of an individual or group motivate retaliatory violence. History provides countless examples of such violence, committed at all levels of society. Whether orchestrated by individuals or governments, the perpetrators almost invariably justify the violence as a necessary response to an existential threat. “Cultures of honor” such as the Southeastern United States condone the use of violence to protect one’s reputation and, unsurprisingly, this region of America has consistently produced the highest levels of per capita violence in the entire country.Additionally, religious texts warn of the destructive power of “pride,” placing it with envy, greed, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Our personal experiences with road rage, school bullies and office politics all provide a regular stream of anecdotal evidence of the inexplicably powerful emotions driving those whose status has been threatened.

As a former mental health counselor, criminal prosecutor and gang task force coordinator in the Southeastern United States, this author has personally observed numerous examples of pride’s destructive influence. Deadly bar fights, domestic violence and street gang conflicts frequently ensue from seemingly trivial offenses to one’s status. In American cities,simply spray painting over a rival gang’s graffiti can lead to retaliation murder. In fact, gang retaliation plays out so consistently that when a gang entrenched neighborhood gets shot up, the police can usually predict which neighborhood they will respond to for the next shooting.