Concept of Aggression & Aversive Incidents That Influence Aggression

Define and explain the concept of aggression. What are the aversive incidents that influence aggression? Discuss.

What is Aggression?

“Textbook defines it as ‘behaviour that is intended to harm another individual”

HOWEVER, there are numerous examples of behaviours that exhibit aggression: murdering for money, verbally and physically assaulting someone, accidentally injuring someone, working persistently to sell a product, and many, many more

Almost every definition that psychologists have tried to come up with for ‘aggression’ can contradict a perfect example of something that is aggressive.

Important words to know…

  • Violence – extreme acts of aggression
  • Anger – strong feelings of displeasure in response to a perceived injury
  • Hostility – a negative, antagonistic attitude toward another person or group
  • Instrumental Aggression – inflicting harm, in order to obtain something of value (i.e. hiring a hit man)
  • Emotional Aggression – inflicting harm for its own sake (i.e. a fight at a hockey game)

Cultural Variation in Aggression

  • Aggression varies greatly across cultures
  • A study done in 2002 show that the countries with the most murders were the Russian Federation, Puerto Rico, Mexico,  and Ukraine.  The United States were very high on the list, while Canada was quite low
  • Subcultures exist within countries, and these subcultures are often aggressive towards each other based on attributes like age, race, gender, religion, social status, wealth etc.
  • Teenagers aged 14-24 were found to be involved in the most crime, and Aboriginal peoples had the highest percent of race involved in crime

Gender Play A Role in Aggression

  • Universally, men are more violent than women
  • Females feel the same amount of anger as males, however they are much less likely to act upon that anger
  • Important to note that most of these gender-related studies have been done only on PHYSICAL aggression
  • Boys are OVERTLY aggressive, while girls are indirectly, or relationally aggressive

“Boys may use their fists to fight, but at least it’s over with quickly; girls use their tongues, and it goes on forever”

(Britt Galen and Marion Underwood, 1997)

Aggression: Innate or Learned?


  • Innate aggression: an inevitable, biological inclination to violence
  • Learned aggression: aggression taught through experience and imitation

Aggression is Innate…

  • Freud and Lorenz argued that aggression is an innate, natural, and biological characteristic
  • Freud described his theory of the ‘death instinct’ as a being a method of escaping life by playing dead whereas the ‘life instinct’ is meant to preserve life and reproduce. Lorenz stated that the will to live and aggression are compatible in the fact that both are directed at securing the advantages necessary to survival and reproduction
  • However, these theories of innate aggression are cyclical in the fact that they are shut off from testable alternatives and linear reasoning (Humans are aggressive because its instinctual and we know its instinctual because humans behave aggressively) (Brehm et al. 2008)

The Role of Evolution

  • Aggression is seen as a way of ensuring survival. The male competes for resources and a healthy female in order to produce healthy offspring. Violence amongst males is a result of threatened status (social and economic) and is also linked with sexual jealousy (securing knowledge of paternity)
  • Women are explained as being aggressive to protect their offspring usually in a less confrontational method. This is explained as behavior meant to preserve the mothers life (and thus the offspring’s lives)
  • These views are challenged when historical, environmental and cultural differences are examined as well. Aggression can be a product of culture, through religion, sports and political and economic states (De Souza 2007)

Hormones and Aggression: Are They Related?

  • Testosterone correlates with high levels of aggression, but this does not imply causation. Stress and aggressive or violent acts can increase testosterone levels as well.
  • The neurotransmitter serotonin seems to act as a damper on aggressive behavior, those with higher levels of serotonin tend to be less aggressive compared to those with smaller amounts
  • Though these chemicals are internal, they are affected by external influences, which shows that aggression is not simply internally motivated (De Souza 2007)

Aggression is Learned…

  • When children are socially taught to be aggressive to get what they want, they tend to be aggressive adults
  • If it is learned at a young age that aggressive behavior has a positive result this method of obtaining such effects will continue (De Souza 2007).
  • Rewards will increase violent behavior (a kid hits another and gets his candy) whereas negative results can stop aggressive and violent behavior
  • Punishment is most effective when it is administered immediately after unwanted behavior occurs, is strong enough to stop the behavior, and is consistently fair. Punishment can also instigate retaliation however, and act as a model to imitate.
  • The correlation between an aggressive model and the imitator is influenced by the environment as well as the tone of the punishment (is the punisher overly angry and violent?) (Brehm et al. 2008)

Aggression behaviour in Boys vs. Girls

  • From a young age boys and girl are rewarded and punished differently for aggressive behavior. Boys are rewarded for playing aggressively, and it is perceived as a healthy competitive spirit, or good rough and tumble play, whereas girls are encouraged to be cautious and considerate. Boys are encouraged to play cops and robbers, and girls are encouraged to play house.
  • These gender roles are taught at a very young age, and they are maintained through the lessons and gender schemas passed on from generation to generation (Brehm et al. 2008)

Nature vs. Nurture

  • The root cause of aggression is not singular, many different factors come into play when determining the cause of aggressive behavior
  • Environmental and biological factors must be considered
  • Here’s an interesting Australian PSA…

Frustration: Aggression as a Drive

  • Frustration produces motive to aggress and that aggression is caused by frustration
  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis holds that engaging in any aggressive action reduces the motive to engage in further aggression, a process called catharsis
  • Aggression now is likely to increase aggression later
  • Frustration is only one of a number of unpleasant experiences that produce negative affect and increase aggression
  • Most research does not support the idea of catharsis as an effective means to reduce aggression

Negative Affect

  • A wide variety of noxious stimuli can create negative feelings and increase aggression
  • Hot temperatures are associated with increased aggression and violence
  • Positive emotional responses are incompatible with negative affect and reduce retaliatory aggression

Arousal: “Wired” for Action

  • Highly arousing stimuli, neutral as well as negative, increase retaliatory aggression
  • The arousal-affect model proposes that both the type of emotion and the intensity of arousal influence aggression, which is greatest in response to experiences that combine negative affect and high arousal

Thought: Automatic and Deliberate

  • Unpleasant experiences create negative affect, which in turn stimulates automatic associations connected with anger and fear
  • Behavioral and emotional outcomes then depends, at least in part, on higher-order cognitive processing
  • Situational cues associated with aggression, such as the presence of a gun, can automatically activate aggression-related thoughts and increase aggressive behavior
  • Individual differences, such as in chronic aggressiveness, influence how individuals interpret the aggression-related motives of others
  • High arousal impairs the cognitive control of aggression, as does alcohol

Media Effects: Scenes of Violence

  • There are more T.Vs in North America than there are toilets(Bushman & Huesmann,2001.)
  • 80% of violent programming in Canada originates in the US (Paquette & de Guise,2006.)

However studying the effects of media violence on real-world aggression is particularly challenging because while correlational studies cannot determine causality, experiments are limited due to practical and ethical restraints.

Immediate and Long Term Effects

  • Exposure to violent video games is significantly linked to increase in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions, aggressive affect and physiological arousal, and to decreases in helping behaviour (Anderson,2004b.)
  • Attitudes can be effected by the process of habituation
  • Familiarity with violence reduces physiological arousal. Desensitized to violence, we may become accepting of it.

Pornography and Aggression

  • In general the link between viewing nonviolent pornography and aggressive behaviour is weak, but the effect is stronger among individuals who are already predisposed to sexual aggression
  • Together, the interest in violent pornography and negative attitudes toward women is a strong predictor of self-reported sexual aggression in the past and sexually aggressive intentions for the future. 

Violence Among University Students

  • ‘Acquaintance rape’ (also called ‘date rape’) – unwanted sexual intercourse because they were overwhelmed by their male partners, more than 20 percent of women on Canadian university campuses have experienced this
  • Two more important factors relating to aggression amongst university students = GENDER and ALCOHOL
  • Men and women both report that men are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviour, psychological and physical, to obtain sex
  • Alcohol consumption is involved in a majority of sexually aggressive incidents between university students.  The actual consumption of alcohol as well as the BELIEF that one has consumed alcohol makes them more aggressive, as well as heightens their sexual arousal and interest

Child Abuse

  • Child abuse is a lot more common than most people think.  In 2001, there were 89 murders of children across Canada, 32 of them were killed by their mother and/or father
  • MOTHERS are more likely to engage in physical abuse towards their SONS, whereas, FATHERS are more likely to engage in sexual abuse towards their DAUGHTERS
  • The Cycle of Family Violence – the transmission of domestic violence across generations.  Children who grow up in a violent family are more likely to be violent to their children when they are older, therefore causing their children to grow up and be violent as well.

Is there a cure?

There really is no definite cure for aggression but there are several ideas put forth that would help:

  • Reducing stressors such as frustration, discomfort, and provocation
  • Providing healthy living conditions, an improved economy, and social support
  • Government censorship of violent movies, television, and games, especially those which demean and degrade women
  • Educational workshops

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