Nature And Causes Of Aggression

Updated 2009-06-05 11:20


PYA4 revision: Pro- and Anti- social behaviour

Social learning theory of aggression

aggression is learned throughthe environment rather than being instinctual.
It is learnt throughreinforcement and modelling.
Direct reinforcement iswhen people are more likely to repeat aggressive behaviour if they are rewarded for it, and are less likely to repeat aggressive behaviour if they are punished for it.
Vicarious/ indirect reinforcement iswhen someone sees another person being rewarded for certain actions, as it encourages the observer to imitate or model those actions.
Models can beparents, peer or media characters.
Support for this comes fromBandura’s "Bobo doll" study. He found that children were more likely to behave aggressively towards the doll if they had observed an adult hitting and throwing the doll (Bandura, 1963), particularly if they had seen the adult being rewarded for the behaviour (Bandura, 1965).
However, Cumberbatch argued thataggression may have been due to the nature of the toy because children who did not witness aggressive behaviour still showed aggressive behaviour towards the doll.
A further criticism of the Bobo studies is thatthe children were made to be frustrated in order to evoke an aggressive response, which suggests that the studies also demonstrate the role of frustration in aggression.
Bandura's experiments had low ecological validity asthey took place in a lab which means that the findings may not reflect behaviour outside of laboratory conditions.
One positive point about the social learning theory isthat it explains the influence of TV and film on the behaviour of children.
A further positive is thatit can account for the lack of consistency in peoples aggressive behaviour. It might be reinforced differently in different situations.
However, it ignoresbiological factors, such as genetic and hormonal influences, for example, pre menstrual tension.
Finally, it is nota complete explanation of aggression because it does not explain the impulse to aggress.

Deindividuation theory of aggression

According to Festinger et al deindividuation refers tosituations where individuals feel anonymous.
This can occur whenthey are surrounded by large numbers of people, for example, in a crowd, or when they are in uniform, for example, when their clothing makes identification difficult.
This can lead toa loss of personal identity and a reduction in the fear of public disapproval because their responsibility for their actions is abdicated to the group.
It increasesbehaviours that are usually inhibited, such as aggression.
Prentice-Dunn argued thatdeindividuation occurs due to public or private self-awareness.
Public self-awareness isthe individual’s sense of being visible to other people.
This reduces their self-awareness and as a resultthey feel a greater chance of getting away with behaviour that might otherwise be punished.
Private self-awareness isan individual’s own sense of self. When people are in a crowd sharing a collective experience people tend to focus on what’s going on around them rather than themselves, which may result in more impulsive and less rational behaviour.
A decrease in public or private awareness may result inaggressive behaviour.
Support for this theory comes fromZimbardo
who conducted a study in whichparticipants were asked to deliver electric shocks to a ‘learner’ as part of a learning experiment.
One group of participantswore bulky clothing and hoods, which covered their faces, were never called by name and were placed in a dimly lit room.
A second group woretheir regular clothes, were called by their name and had large name tags, and were placed in a brightly lit room.
Results showed thatshocks delivered by the hooded group were twice as severe as those given by the non-hooded group.
However, this was criticised byJohnson and Downing, who found that participants who were made anonymous by wearing nurses’ uniforms didn’t give shocks to the ‘learner’ even though they were still deindividuated.
This shows that deindividuation cansometimes lead to more pro social behaviour, for example policemen and nurses etc.
An individual can actindependently, deindividuation is not always inevitable.
It is possible that deindividuation does not cause aggression but merely helps it to be exhibited.Deindividuation does notalways lead to aggression, there are many times when people are in large crowds and do not become aggressive.
Finally, individual differences will play a part. Some people are more receptive to deindividuation than others. The theory assumes thateveryone within a crowd or when their anonymous will conform and act differently, where as peoples personalities will have a huge influence on how people respond / act in different situations.

Environmental stressors


Question Answer
One environmental stressor isnoise.
Baron and Byrnedefine noise as an unwanted sound that brings about a negative response.
Donnerstein and Wilson found thatthere was a relationship between noise and aggression when people were already angry, but when people were not angry the noise had no effect.
They also found that levels of aggression werelower when people had control over the noise.
This suggests thatin combination with pre-existing anger noise may trigger aggression, and this is more likely to happen when we have little or no control over the noise.
This was supported byGeen and O’Neale, who found that people only become aggressive in noisy conditions when there is provocation or an aggressive atmosphere.
Evans et al provided evidence forstressful effects of long term exposure to uncontrolled noise; he looked at 7 – 8 year old children in rural areas before and after the opening of a new airport, with half living under the new flightpath and half not.
Those in the noise groupexperienced significant increases in blood pressure and stress hormones, whilst there was no change in the quiet group.
As this is a naturalistic study it has an advantage in thatit is natural and more likely to give realistic results without demand characteristics.
However, it also has disadvantages in thatthere are too many variables which cannot be controlled, for example, the possibility that the planes woke the children up and tiredness rather than noise made them aggressive was not taken into account.
Another stressor is overcrowdingthe psychological feeling of not having enough space.
This may createarousal and therefore aggression
due to the feeling ofhaving insufficient personal space and a diminished sense of control.
Support for the existence of this environmental stressor comes in the form of a study byGeen, which found that that increased density of people and violations of personal space leads to an aggressive response.
Also, it was found thatthere was more violence and higher levels of observed aggressive incidents in more crowded nightclubs than in less crowded nightclubs.
These studies make it seem clear that crowding is related to aggression. However, this relationship is complex asthe effects of crowding can vary with social context, for example, a party vs. a shopping centre.
This is related to deindividuation, asalthough being part of a crowd can lead to a loss of personal identity and intensify aggressive tendencies which already exist, it may also intensify the crowds positive mood.
Schmitts idea thathigh population density is related to crime has been challenged –
Kelly foundno relation between aggressive assault and population density. Larger, denser cities like Bombay have been found to have lower violent crime rates than less dense cities in the USA, which suggests that social explanations can account for high urban crime levels.
Finally, Freedman argued that whensocial factors such as the economy, education and ethnicity are taken into account, the relationship between aggression and crowding disappears.