Psychology AQA A2 Detailed Agression Notes

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One social-psychological theory of aggression is the social-learning theory. BANDURA suggested
that as well as being learnt through direct experience, aggressive behaviour can be learnt indirectly,
through observation of others. If a person observes aggressive behaviour in a model, they may
imitate their behaviour, especially if they identify with or admire the model.
The observer forms a mental representation of the event, including the consequences (rewards or
punishments) of the models behaviour. Vicarious reinforcement is when the model is rewarded, and
this will increase the chance of the behaviour being repeated. In this way, children learn appropriate
and effective ways to use certain behaviours. When a person imitates the behaviour, they gain direct
experience. The outcome of aggressive behaviour will influence the value of aggression for a child.
When a child is rewarded for behaviour, this is direct reinforcement, and will make them more likely
to repeat the behaviour. A child develops confidence in their ability to use aggressive behaviour
successfully. If they are unsuccessful, they will have lower self-efficacy, so will be less confident that
they can use aggression successfully, and will turn to other behaviours.
BANDURA claimed that in order for social learning to take place the child must form mental
representations of events in their social environment. The child must also represent possible rewards
and punishments for their aggressive behaviour in terms of expectancies of future outcomes. When
appropriate opportunities arise in the future, the child will display the learned behaviour as long as
the expectation of reward is greater than the expectation of punishment.
If a child is rewarded for a behaviour, he or she is likely to repeat the same action in similar situations
in the future. A child who has a history of successfully bullying other children will therefore come to
attach considerable value to aggression.
SLT is supported by BANDURA ET AL who found that children who observed a model behaving
aggressively towards a Bobo doll were more likely to reproduce the same behaviours when they
were later allowed to interact with the doll; the children even improvised their own aggressive
actions towards the doll. This was particularly the case when they saw the adult rewarded for their
aggressive behaviour, thus supporting the claim that the expectation of reward influences the
likelihood of a behaviour being performed.
However, this study lacks validity because the children may have been aware of what was expected
of them, leading to them displaying demand characteristics when they were allowed to play with the
doll. The study also focuses on aggression toward a doll rather than real-life aggression, meaning the
same results may not apply to other settings.
A strength of this theory is that it can explain context-dependent aggression. People behave
differently in different situations because they are rewarded for aggressive behaviour in some
situations but not in others. This means that SLT is able to predict whether aggressive behaviour is
likely in a specific situation dependent on previous experiences.
Another strength of SLT over simpler learning theories is that it can also explain aggressive behaviour
in the absence of direct reinforcement. For example in the children in the Bobo doll studies were
never directly reinforced for their own aggressive behaviour; the concept of vicarious reinforcement
is necessary to explain their actions.
SLT's relevance can be demonstrated by its ability to explain aggression outside the context of the
laboratory. PHILIPS found that murder and assaults rates in the US almost always increased in the

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A final strength of this theory of aggressive behaviour is that it can explain cultural differences in
aggressive behaviour. For example, aggression among the Kung San people of Southern Africa is
rare. According to SLT, this is because parents neither provide models for aggression (resulting in a
lack of opportunities for observational learning), nor do they reward aggressive behaviour in
children resulting in a lack of direct reinforcement. As a result there is no motivation for children in
this culture to act aggressively.…read more

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Deindividuation is a social psychological explanation of aggression. It refers to the loss of personal
identity and responsibility that occurs as a result of being in a crowd of people, or wearing a mask.
DEINER detailed deindividuation as 4 effects of decreased self-awareness. He stated it occurs when:
self-awareness is blocked by environmental factors, there is a reduced need for social approval,
there is a reduction in rational thinking and a decrease in inhibitions.…read more

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In a further study ZIMBARDO used female students to give electric shocks to other female students
who were actually confederates. Some participants wore their own clothes and ID labels; others
wore white costumes and cloaks, masking their identity. The latter gave a much higher number of
shocks than the former, which could have been due to the anonymity provided by the costumes. This
would have meant they were deindividuated, and felt they could act more aggressively.…read more

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Institutional aggression refers to aggression within or between groups or institutions. Much of the
research on models of institutional aggression has been done in prison environments. The
importation model was introduced by IRWIM ET AL which suggests that inmates in prison bring their
traits into prison with them. This influences their adaption into the prison environment. People who
were more aggressive outside of prison will be more aggressive in prison.…read more

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The deprivation model suggests that aggression in prisons and other institutions is the product of the
stressful and oppressive conditions of the institution itself. For example, aggression in prisons can be
catalysed by deprivation of liberty, lack of autonomy, lack of goods or services. HODGKINSON ET AL
found that trainee nurses were subject to more assault and aggressive behaviour than experiences
nurses. This is because firstly they did not know the trainee nurses and wanted to be cared for by
people they know.…read more

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DABBS looked at the relationships between testosterone, crime and prison behaviour. Testosterone
levels were measured in the saliva of 692 adult male prisoners and found that those who has been
convicted of sexual and violent crimes had higher levels of testosterone than inmates who had
committed less physically aggressive acts, such as theft and burglary. This study could be accused of
showing beta bias as the sample used only males and therefore it is unclear if the results can be
generalised to females as well.…read more

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The neural/hormonal explanation of aggression is reductionist as it over-simplifies complex
behaviour and focuses solely on the cause of aggression being a structural or chemical problem.
Aggression may also depend on social situations and events and cannot be attributed to only
biological factors. It also fails to explain why there are cross cultural differences; if neural and
hormonal mechanisms were the sole cause we would see a world-wide distribution of aggression.…read more

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However, the research cannot account for aggression in females as they
also carry the X chromosome, which implies that other extraneous variables may be interacting with
the gene to cause aggression only to occur in the male mice. This is a problem, as we cannot fully
conclude that the gene was the sole cause of aggression and therefore it does not fully support the
genetic explanation.…read more

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Another piece of research to supports the link between genetic factors and aggression comes from
LAGERSPERTZ, who bred 25 generations of mice with the most aggressive bred together and least
aggressive bred together. This resulted in two different strains of mice; super-aggressive and docile
therefore demonstrating how aggressive behaviour is passed down through genetics and supports
the role that genes play in influencing such behaviour.…read more


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