Facts Before Feelings: Theorizing Emotional Responses to Violent Trauma


What separates situations in which victims of violence become angry at the perpetrator from situations in which they do not? What characterizes the emotional response of victimized individuals who are not angry at the perpetrator? This paper use evidence from in-depth interviews with relatives of homicide victims in Chicago, IL to develop and illustrate a new theory of when and how individuals become angry in response to violence. Evidence suggests that cognitive clarity about the identity of the perpetrator, the perpetrator’s motive and the nature of the violence as unjust are necessary for an individual to become angry at the perpetrator. In addition to presenting a new theory, the paper also documents the emotional responses of individuals who are not angry at the perpetrator, and explores how certain contextual conditions—like the political narrative of conflict—might make it easier for victimized individuals to achieve cognitive clarity, become angry, and desire retribution.