Social Psychological Theories of Aggression

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Social Psychological Theories of Aggression
Social Learning Theory
Whilst the aggressive behaviour of animals can be explained in terms of instinctual
drives, Bandura (1965) and Berkowitz (1989) assert that humans who display
aggression do so as a result of learned behaviour. They argue that this may be the
outcome of direct experience or acquired through observational learning.
Bandura's social learning theory outlines the way in which humans learn through
the process of observation, imitation and modelling. This view of modelling, based in
the Freudian concept of identification (ie a persons desire to be part of a particular
group which involves adopting the behaviour of others because we find it satisfying
to be like them) is reinterpreted in behaviourist terms.
Learning by direct experience is based in Skinner's principles of operant
conditioning. A child who pushes another and gets what they want as a result is
reinforced is more likely to display the same behaviour in the future. Learning by
vicarious reinforcement occurs when a child sees a role model behaving in a particular
way and reproduces that behaviour. A study by Huesman suggests that children may
use TV role models as a source of scripts which guide their own behaviour, for
example seeing a movie hero beating up their enemies. Many other studies
investigate the influence of media violence and these can be used to illustrate these
theoretical points, for example Lebert and Baron, Stein and Fredrick (see further
notes on media and aggression.)
Social learning theorists like Bandura and Berkowitz stress that for behaviour to be
imitated it must be seen as rewarding in some way with the likelihood of that person
behaving aggressively being influenced by a number of factors:
Their previous experiences of aggressive behaviours
The degree to which their aggressive behaviour was successful in the past
The current likelihood of their aggressive behaviour beign rewarded or
The most well known study in this area is Bandura's Bobo Doll Experiment. (see
write up of study in notes.)
Social learning explinations have lead to an increased focus on the visual affects of
media such as TV, film and video games. Supporters of this psychological explination
claim that exposure to successfully aggressive role models may lead people to
imitate them. Aggression can then be passed on across generations as each
generation observes and imitates what it believes to be appropriate and successful
behaviours of previous generations.
In contrast to these environmental influences on aggression Biological
perspectives stress factors which are more convincingly deterministic such as the
effect of the male hormone testosterone. Pre menstrual syndrome has even been
cited in criminal trials as a reason for aggressive behaviour (Flannagan 2000.) Such

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argument is counted by psychologists who point to societies such as the Amish who
have no aggressive behaviour. Disagreement also exists among social psychologists
with Dollard and Millar (frustration aggression hypothesis/
frustration-aggression-displacement theory) pointing to factors other than modelling
as a cause of aggression. This suggests that frustration causes aggression but when
the source of frustration cannot be directly challenged, the aggression is taken out
on an innocent target; it often used to explain why people scapegoat.
Zimbardo proposed the idea of deindividuation.…read more

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The teams in the orange shirts played in a
consistently more aggressive manner throughout the match than those in regular
Mullen's examination of American newspaper articles about lychings suggests
that the more people are in a mob the more savagely the victims had been killed.
Another example of deindividuation in crowds can be seen in Mann's study which
used deindividuation as an explanation for the "baiting crowd".…read more

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