Jack Levin

Jack Levin
Northeastern University | NEU · Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict in Department of Sociology

Ph.D.

About

134
Publications
101,258
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Introduction
Research in the areas of homicide, hate crimes, and immigration
Additional affiliations
September 1970 - present
Northeastern University
Position
  • Professor of Sociology and Criminology Emeritus; co-director of Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict

Publications

Publications (134)
Chapter
Full-text available
Sadistic serial killers have been widely diagnosed as sociopaths who are lacking in empathy and inordinately concerned with impression management. We propose instead that many of the behavioral characteristics thought to be distinctive of these serial murderers are actually shared widely with millions of people who never kill anyone. By focusing so...
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Full-text available
To explain the genesis of mass murder committed by students at their schools, the authors propose a five-stage sequential model in which several criminological theories (strain theory, control theory, and routine activities theory) are brought to bear collectively to demonstrate their cumulative effect. These stages are as follows: chronic strain,...
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Full-text available
In the aftermath of the September 11 attack on America, thrill-motivated hate crimes tended to decline as the rate of violent crime generally declined, but defensive hate crimes seemed to increase substantially. Just as individual factors were important in accounting for thrill-motivated hate attacks, so group factors became important for the purpo...
Article
Full-text available
This research examines whether people are more emotionally disturbed by reports of non-human animal than human suffering or abuse. Two hundred and fifty-six undergraduates at a major northeastern university were asked to indicate their degree of empathy for a brutally beaten human adult or child versus an adult dog or puppy, as described in a ficti...
Article
Journalists often assume that consumers are drawn to stories of mass murder because of their morbid curiosity. As a result, cable television reports and news stories tend to focus on details of the killer’s biography and modus operandi, possibly neglecting aspects of an incident that could provide consumers with practical knowledge for preventing a...
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This article describes our current state of knowledge regarding the causes, conditions, and consequences of hate crimes. Initially, we offer a definition of hate crimes and then present a legal framework for the hate crime distinctions currently in place in the United States. Next, we provide some background concerning the nature of prejudice in ge...
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Full-text available
Mass murder, especially involving a firearm, has been a subject of increasing interest among criminologists over the past decade. Lacking an existing and reliable data resource for studying these crimes, several organizations have launched their own database initiatives with, unfortunately, little consensus on definition. As a result, there is conf...
Chapter
We introduce readers to the social problem of rampage school shootings and discuss the associated patterns, causes, and best practices for their prevention. While media coverage might suggest otherwise, rampage shootings at schools are extremely rare, even if they often yield much carnage and anxiety. At the individual level, some have focused on t...
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In this chapter, we focus on individuals who murder large numbers of victims (multiple homicide), be it one-by-one (serial murder) or in the course of a single rampage (mass murder). We treat serial and mass murder as two separate and distinct types of multiple murder, but also emphasize their important areas of commonality. We first discuss the so...
Chapter
The literature of abnormal psychology features a plethora of case studies analyzing the backgrounds and mindsets of individuals who slaughter family members, massacre coworkers, or kill indiscriminately. The moral panic and sense of urgency surrounding mass murder, and mass shootings in particular, have been fueled by various claims that they are r...
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Die Autoren analysieren die öffentliche Debatte zum School Shooting von Newtown (2012) und fokussieren dabei auf kulturelle (z.B. Waffenbesitz) und sozialpsychologische (z.B. Faszination für Gewalt und Gewalttäter) Aspekte, die dabei zum Tragen kamen. Des Weiteren analysieren sie die Entwicklung, den Verlauf und die Ausdehnung der Berichterstattung...
Chapter
Hate crimes target victims who are different in some socially significant way. Most offenders are dabblers—that is, they commit hate crimes on a part-time basis and do not belong to any organized hate group. As a result, it is possible to reach hatemongers—especially youthful first-offenders—before they perpetrate major offenses. Moreover, structur...
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This short, accessible text takes on the global and pervasive phenomenon of hate crimes and hypothesizes potential fixes. Iganski and Levin detail evidence of hate violence in the 21st century, particularly religious hatred, ethnic, racial and xenophobic hatred, violence on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity, disablist violence, an...
Article
Full-text available
Analysis of varying definitions and resulting conclusions about trends in mass murder
Conference Paper
This book examines changes in age-related norms, both in their substance and in their declining rigidity. The analysis of changes in age norms is embedded in a wider thesis that informal social norms in general have diminished in their influence. Jack Levin argues that the social and cultural forces responsible for the blurring of boundaries betwee...
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Full-text available
For a period of time following the original usage of the term “hate crimes” in the late 1980s, there existed a gap in the literature of criminology and social science generally regarding important factors underlying the motivation of hate crime offenders. Researchers recognized that certain criminal behavior had its basis in hostility toward people...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter is an international extension of previous work, in which the authors developed a sequential explanatory model of the factors implicated in American school rampages (cases in which three or more people are killed or injured by current or former students of the targeted school or college) and identified the following cumulative stages: c...
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Full-text available
Familicide refers to the killing of multiple family members, most commonly the homicide of an intimate partner and at least one child. This study examines the prevalence of familicide in the United States. Second, it explores the relationship between the prevalence of familicide and the prevalence of financial problems in the United States by makin...
Chapter
Jack Levin, PhD, is the Brudnick professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, where he co-directs its Center on Violence and Conflict and teaches courses in the sociology of violence and hate. He has authored or co-authored 28 books, including Mass Murder: America’s growing menace, Why we hate, The functions of preju...
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This article examines the conditions under which a crime committed by a teenager comes to be viewed as a hate-motivated offense. In Study 1, the age of the perpetrator and the level of evidence were experimentally manipulated for male and female subjects. The dependent variable consisted of the likelihood that an interracial encounter was a hate cr...
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Thirty-nine undergraduate students participated in an experiment to determine the impact of cooperation and fear of terrorism on student support for Muslims on campus. As expected, participants whose fear of terrorism was low expressed significantly greater support for Muslim students than did their more fearful counterparts. Moreover, participants...
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In the early morning of March 25, 2006, 28-year-old Kyle Huff shot eight young men and women, six of them fatally, at a rave after-party on East Republican Street in the Capitol Hill section of Seattle. The gunman, a transplant from Montana, then committed suicide just as the police arrived on the scene. Because of the perpetrator's suicide, there...
Article
Mass murder involves the slaughter of four or more victims by one or a few assailants within a single event, lasting but a few minutes or as long as several hours. More than just arbitrary, using this minimum body count—as opposed to a two- or three-victim threshold suggested by others (e.g., Ressler et al., 1988, Holmes and Holmes, 2001)—helps to...
Article
Little research has been conducted to determine the motivations of hate crime offenders. This article builds on an earlier work of J. Levin and McDevitt (1993) in which a typology of offender motivations was first articulated. We reanalyze 169 Boston police case files that were originally studied in order to provide empirical grounding for the typo...
Article
This compact and affordable text serves as an introduction to a wide range of social problems. Social Problems, Second Edition, is unique in that all chapters are organized in a consistent format, beginning with the definition and prevalence of the social problem covered, followed by levels of causation, consequences, and interventions. Each chapte...
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Full-text available
Results from this study challenge the assumption that animal abusers commonly “graduate” from violence against animals to violence against humans. The criminal records of 153 animal abusers and 153 control participants were tracked and compared. Animal abusers were more likely than control participants to be interpersonally violent, but they also w...
Chapter
The execution-style murder of 14 family members by a rejected and controlling middle-aged man in rural Arkansas, the vengeful slayings of six coworkers by a disgruntled postal worker in a Royal Oak, Michigan, post office, and the indiscriminate slaughter of 23 customers at a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, by a gunman apparently gone berserk ar...
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Full-text available
Over the past decade the topic of multiple homicide-serial and mass murder-has attracted increased attention in the field of criminology. Though far from the epidemic suggested in media reports, it is alarming nonetheless that a small number of offenders account for so much human destruction and widespread fear. The serial killer is typically a whi...
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Full-text available
This study was designed to test, in a controlled setting, the effects of racial identity of the police on perceptions of police brutality. We produced three videotapes, each showing a black male suspect being arrested by two police officers whose racial identity was varied. One version of the tape then was viewed by each randomly assigned subject,...
Article
Full-text available
This study was designed to test, in a controlled setting, the effects of racial identity of the police on perceptions of police brutality. We produced three videotapes, each showing a black male suspect being arrested by two police officers whose racial identity was varied. One version of the tape then was viewed by each randomly assigned subject,...
Article
Full-text available
Homicides committed against supervisors and coworkers by disgruntled employees have grown at a disturbing rate in the American workplace. Increasingly, embittered employees and ex-employees are seeking revenge through violence and murder for alleged mistreatment on the job. This article examines patterns and trends in available data and presents a...
Chapter
During the Christmas season of 1978, residents of West Summerdale Avenue in Des Plaines, Illinois, watched in horror as body after body was removed from the crawl space beneath the Gacy home at number 8213. In the days to follow, as news crews focused their cameras on John Wayne Gacy’s burial ground, neighbors were repeatedly interviewed about what...
Chapter
Most mass killers target people they know—family members, friends, or coworkers—in order to settle a score, to get even with the particular individuals whom they hold accountable for their problems. Others seek revenge against a certain class or category of people who are suspected of receiving an unfair advantage. But a few revenge-motivated mass...
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During the early morning hours of March 26, 1990, New York’s Happy Land Social Club was swinging, packed from wall to wall with Spanish-speaking immigrants who, after escaping political or economic repression, had settled in the Bronx. It was three o’clock, but drinking, music, merriment, and laughter filled the small club—so much so that no one pa...
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In June 1987, 40-year-old Arthur Shawcross was granted his freedom—freedom to kill. He had been convicted in 1972 of murdering two young children in upstate New York. His first victim was 10-year-old Jack Blake, who was kidnapped while on his way to a friend’s house to play. Shawcross confessed to raping and butchering the boy, then devouring his g...
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Fighting back the nausea, Mexican police performed their unenviable task of digging for bodies. On April 12, 1989, they had unearthed a mass grave on an isolated ranch some 20 miles west of Matamoros, Mexico, just south of the Texas border. Among the 15 corpses buried in the makeshift grave was the body of Mark Kilroy, a blond-haired, 21-year-old U...
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“Hi, I’m Jeff. I like the way you dance.” Jeffrey Dahmer’s icebreaker may not have been a clever come-on, but it was effective enough for his purposes. Dahmer, a 31-year-old chocolate factory worker, spent his spare time trolling gay bars in Milwaukee’s decaying Walker’s Point, seeking out pretty young men he could make his own. Sometimes he offere...
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Paul Calden said he would be back, and he was true to his word. On January 27, 1993, 8 months after being fired from his job at Fireman’s Fund Insurance in Tampa, Florida, the 33-year-old former claims manager returned to get even. This time, he would be the one to do the firing.
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Randy Kraft was considered by neighbors, friends, and business associates as a decent and intelligent man whose casual lifestyle seemed to fit the California scene. A thirty-something homeowner, computer consultant, and college graduate, Kraft was meticulous in his personal appearance and caring in his demeanor. His short walrus-style mustache and...
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Christina Powell’s parents had grown increasingly upset about their inability to reach their 17-year-old daughter at school. At first, they assumed that she was probably out partying. After all, this was August 1990, during orientation week for freshmen at the University of Florida, and she more than likely was out making new friends and buying thi...
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It was August 20, 1986, when 44-year-old part-time letter carrier Patrick Henry Sherrill opened fire on his supervisors and coworkers at the Edmond, Oklahoma, post office, killing 14. His rampage signaled not only a new concern in workplaces everywhere, but a problem that the U.S. Postal Service in particular would be forced to confront on many occ...
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The gruesome discovery in June 1985 of the vicious crimes of 39-year-old Leonard Lake and 24-year-old Charles Ng left residents of Northern California shaking their heads. For the San Francisco police, it began routinely enough on the afternoon of June 2. They were called by the owner of South City Lumber when he observed Ng stealing a vise from th...
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Andrei Chikatilo of Russia, serial killer extraordinaire, was arguably more power hungry and control minded than Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy put together. Between 1978 and 1990, Chikatilo killed, dismembered, and occasionally devoured 21 boys, 14 girls, and 18 women in and around Rostov while he worked as an office clerk and part-time teacher. Th...
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Christmas Day, 1987, was wet and cold for rural Pope County, Arkansas. It had rained off and on for most of the week, and the Arkansas River was unusually high. Forty-seven-year-old Ronald Gene Simmons spent the holiday alone, puttering around his run-down four-bedroom mobile home, which was anchored at the top of a hill 7 miles north of the tiny t...
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John T. Miller, a 50-year-old “deadbeat dad,” murdered four county workers in Watkins Glen, New York, who were responsible for collecting child support money. Having been arrested several times over a span of 20 years for nonpayment of child support, Miller was on the run from a system that he felt was stacked against men like himself. He felt vict...
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On August 18, 1987, 35-year-old Donald Harvey admitted having committed an atrocity beyond the imagination of most normal people. He had killed 24 helpless, desperately ill hospital patients over a period of 4 years. To avoid Ohio’s electric chair, the former nurse’s aid plea-bargained with a Hamilton County prosecutor for a reduced sentence. In ex...
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Lodged on the northern face of Mount Royal overlooking the distinguished homes in one of Montreal’s more affluent suburbs, the site of the École Polytechnique is as charming as the sound of its name. The University of Montreal School of Engineering, as it is known to English-speaking Canadians, is also known throughout North America as the site of...
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It was June 18, 1984. Outspoken radio personality Alan Berg had spent another routine morning behind the microphone at superstation KOA in Denver, exchanging verbal barbs on the air with assorted lunatics, activists, survivalists, racists, and shut-ins. Later in the day, the bearded and graying talk show host picked up his ex-wife Judith Lee who ha...
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At the tender age of four, David Lewis Rice lunged headfirst through a sliding glass door, which left him badly scarred and blind in one eye. During his teenage years, the left side of his face was burned in a freak welding accident that only added to his already grotesque appearance. Some of Rice’s schoolmates routinely targeted the disfigured and...
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Local officials and community residents around the country are just beginning to view hate crimes as serious offenses that can tear a community apart, pitting neighbor against neighbor in acts of vandalism and violence. Moreover, as we have seen, hate crimes often have a profound impact on their victims, making them feel fearful and vulnerable. Pub...
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The voices of xenophobia and racism are once again reverberating throughout German society. The resentment associated with hate crimes can be clearly seen in a sweeping new wave of violence—the largest spree of racial violence in Germany since the early days of Nazism.
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We laugh and the world laughs with us; at least some people in the world laugh with us. Others weep—those who are the butt of the joke. We clap along with the beat of a popular tune on FM radio. It makes us feel happy, excited, uplifted... but at whose expense? Perhaps at the expense of those groups maligned in the lyrics. We feel a surge of solida...
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A swastika is spray painted on a synagogue; a rock is hurled through the window of a black family that recently moved into an all-white neighborhood; a man perceived to be gay is assaulted. When a hate crime occurs, the local police department is generally the first governmental agency to be notified. The victims of the hate crime, most often membe...
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Russell and Laura Jones awoke with a start. It was 2:30 in the morning, and the sound of loud voices outside was unmistakable. By the time the couple checked their children and got to the living-room window, the voices had gone, but not the two-foot cross burning on their front lawn. (1
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Students on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts sat glued to the tube. This was the final game of the 1986 World Series—a championship contest between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox that had raised the collective level of excitement to a feverish pitch. Watching TV in residence halls around the campus, groups of undergra...
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In the same way that some young men get together on a Saturday night to play a game of cards, certain hate-mongers gather to destroy property or to bash minorities. They look merely to have some fun and stir up a little excitement... at someone else’s expense. In a thrill-seeking hate crime, there need not be a precipitating incident. The victim do...
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On Friday, February 7, 1992, some 4,000 grieving and incensed people attended the funeral of Phyliss LaPine, a thirty-eight-year-old Hasidic Jewish woman who had been brutally murdered by a burglar inside her Crown Heights, New York, apartment. She and her husband had recently moved with their four young children to this beleaguered Brooklyn neighb...
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The rarest version of hate crimes consists of an attack carried out by individuals with a mission; they seek to rid the world of evil by disposing of the members of a despised group. In the hatemonger’s view, all outgroup members are subhumans, either animal or demon, who are bent on destroying his culture, his economy, or the purity of his racial...
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Learning to hate is almost as inescapable as breathing. Like almost everyone else, the hate crime offender grows up in a culture that defines certain people as righteous, upstanding citizens; while designating others as sleazy, immoral characters who deserve to be mistreated. As a child, the perpetrator may never have had a firsthand experience wit...
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As bad as race relations in the United States may be, we have since the 1950s at least moved in the direction of making some effort, through public policy, to reduce inequality and increase opportunities for people of color, women, the disabled, and gays. Various federal initiatives, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and, more recently, the Ameri...
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Life hadn’t been easy for twenty-seven-year-old Mulugeta Seraw, but his future looked bright. The dark-skinned young man with a foreign accent and a ready smile lived and worked in the city of Portland, Oregon. Having emigrated from Ethiopia seven years earlier, Seraw was a parttime student while working as an Avis shuttle-bus driver at the airport...
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Not all hate offenses are motivated by thrill or excitement. In reactive hate crimes, hatemongers seize on what they consider to be a precipitating or triggering incident to serve as a catalyst for the expression of their anger. They rationalize that by attacking an outsider they are in fact taking a protective posture, a defensive stance against i...
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When the police are fortunate enough to make an arrest in a hate crime case, the next decision concerns how the offender will be charged. This judgment is most often made by the prosecutor with jurisdiction over the crime, the United States Attorney for violations of federal law, and the local prosecutor for violations of state law. The decision ab...
Article
American norms for the proper timing of events are reflected in a preference for academic achievement on schedule. Unlike most other societies with formalized education, however, we also tolerate educational late blooming. The preference for blooming on time may be explained by the positive social functions of scheduling educational success. Such r...
Article
By virtue of the type of data generally used (victim surveys), previous research on the victimization of the elderly is limited in two respects. Not only is the crime of homicide outside the domain of victimization data, but sample surveys uncover too few incidents of victimization of the elderly to permit in-depth analyses. Using the supplementary...
Article
Earlier this year, a 14-year-old boy from Canton, Massachusetts was convicted for beating to death a fellow student. One defense psychiatrist at the trial, Dr. Bernard Yudowitz, argued that the documentary film Faces of Death had inspired Rod Matthews to commit this murder by swinging a wooden Louisville Slugger at Shaun Quillette at least three ti...
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In the pages that follow, we explore the who, what, where, and why of gossip. What kind of person is likely to spread gossip? Do women really gossip more than men? How much flattering gossip do people circulate about one another? What do gossip columnists and tabloid reporters have to say about the national celebrities—and about ordinary people? An...
Article
Full-text available
This study examined the assumption that the gender gap has narrowed over time in the writing of sexual graffiti from male and female bathrooms of five colleges and universities in 1972 and 1984. In both studies, female graffiti, in relation to male graffiti, made fewer sexual references. In addition, female graffiti were more socially acceptable in...
Chapter
Anthropologists attempt to understand life in other cultures as well as in their own. They travel the four corners of the globe, pen and tape recorder in hand, hoping to uncover the details of little-known tribal rites and customs. Gossip reporters really aren’t so different. Like anthropologists, they try to get the “inside scoop” on celebrity cul...
Chapter
Imagine opening the daily paper and finding yourself featured in a syndicated gossip column. Suppose that, while passing through the checkout counter at a local drugstore, you see your photo plastered across the cover of a popular tabloid. What can you do about it?
Chapter
Gossip has a bad reputation around town—if not the world. Among the West African Ashanti, nasty or scandalous gossip about a tribal leader is punished by cutting off the gossiper’s lips. Only during special ceremonies are members of the tribe allowed to tattle without having their mouths altered. The Seminole Indians of North America treat “talking...
Chapter
To regard gossip as “idle chatter” is to underestimate its usefulness. Why do people gossip? In the larger scheme of things, why has gossip survived throughout the centuries in every known society under the most hostile conditions, regardless of the local laws and customs designed to obliterate it?
Chapter
It is time that we put aside our old ideas about gossip. Clearly, it is much more than just the nasty small talk of women over the back fence. Everyone gossips, men and women alike. And much of what they say is positive and flattering. Even in newspaper columns and tabloids with a reputation for spreading the dirt, one finds little in the way of na...
Chapter
Gossip serves to remind members of the community of the importance of its norms and values. On the negative side, gossip may be used to punish those who transgress and, at the same time, to warn everyone else not to transgress, lest they be shunned as well. Reporting the liabilities of other people through gossip issues a warning: “With every bit o...

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This research examines whether people are more emotionally disturbed by reports of animal than human suffering or abuse. Two hundred and fifty six undergraduates at a major northeastern university were asked to indicate their degree of empathy for either a brutally beaten human adult or child versus an adult dog or puppy, as described in a fictitious news report. In a 2 (dog versus human) X 2 (infant or puppy versus adult) factorial experimental design, participants responded to one of four vignettes on a scale designed to assess their degree of empathy. We hypothesized that the vulnerability of victims—determined by their age and not species—would determine participants’ level of distress and concern for them. However, results revealed a more complicated picture. The main effect for age but not for species was significant. In a significant interaction effect, moreover, we found more empathy for victims who are human children, puppies, and fully-grown dogs than for victims who are adult humans. In other words, age makes a difference for empathy toward human victims, but not for dog victims. We also found that female participants were significantly more empathic toward victims—either human or animal—than were their male counterparts.