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Discuss psychological explanations of two or more forms of institutional
aggression. (8+16 marks)
Institutional aggression occurs where aggressive behaviour has become the norm in an
institution. It may occur `within' groups or institutions, such as the armed forces, prisons
and mental institutions. It may also occur `between' different groups such as sections of
society or religious sects.
One explanation of institutional aggression `within' groups is the `Importation model' which
focuses on interpersonal factors with regard to prisons. Irwin and Cressey (1962) claim
that prisoner's bring their own personal traits and histories with them into prison, and this
influences their adaptation to the prison environment. They argue that prisoners are not
`blank slates' when they enter prison, and that many of the normative systems developed
on the outside world would be imported into the prison.
Support for this model comes from Harer and Steffensmeier (2006) who collected data
from 58 US prisons and found that black inmates had significantly higher rates of violence,
but lower rates of alcohol and drug related misconduct than white inmates. These
patterns parallel racial differences in these behaviours in the US society and so support
the importation model. The problem with this research however is that it studied only
American prisons, thus committing the issue of culture bias as the findings may not be
similar to those found in prisons in other countries and so therefore the results cannot be
generalised across all cultures.
An alternative explanation of institutional aggression `within' groups is the `Deprivation
model', which focuses on situational factors. The model argues that prisoner or patient
aggression is the product of the stressful and oppressive situations of the institution
itself. These include; crowding; assumed to increase fear and frustration levels, and staff
experience. For example, Hodgkinson et al. (1985) found that trainee nurses were more
likely to suffer violent assault than experienced nurses, and in prisons, experienced
officers were less likely to suffer an assault. This supports `staff experience' as being a
situational factor likely to increase aggressive behaviour.
The deprivation model also assumes that peer violence is used to relieve inmates of the
deprivation imposed by the institution. Support from McCorkle et al. (1995) found that
overcrowding, lack of privacy and lack of activity all influence peer violence. However,
contradicting evidence from Nijman et al. (1999) found that increased personal space failed
to decrease violence in psychiatric institutions.
A problem with this model is that it is rather deterministic as it assumes that the violent
behaviour of inmates is due to factors beyond their control, rather than the result of their
own characteristics and traits. This is a problem because it means little moral
responsibility is placed on patients for their unruly behaviour.
The second form of institutional aggression `between groups', focuses on dehumanisation
and obedience to authority. Dehumanisation occurs when a target group is seen as
worthless animals not worthy of moral consideration. Evidence of this can be seen in the
Holocaust, the Balkan Wars and the Rwandan genocide. However, in terms of real-world
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negatively depicted by the media, causing people to rationalise this attitude and believe
that immigrants deserve hostility because they are less human than others.
`Obedience to authority' has been suggested by Milgram as the reason such aggression can
occur. He believed that the Holocaust was due to situational pressures that forced the
Nazi soldiers to obey their leaders. However, Mandel (1988) rejects this claim and argues
that Milgram's account is mono-causal and fails to match the historical record.…read more