Brief Summary of main thories/explanations including evaluation :)

HideShow resource information

Theories of Aggression

Social Learning Theory - Bandura

emphasis on learning occurring in the social context controlled by the environment

Bandura, we learn by direct and vicarious expereinces:

direct = individual is rewarded for the behaviour, makes it likely to be repeated -> based on Skinner's rules of operant conditioning

vicarious = learn specifics of aggression by seeing people get rewarded/punished, therfore learn where its appropriate

3 Main stages of modelling behaviour:

1) Aqisition -> learn the aggressive behaviour

2) Instigation -> imitate the behaviour in a similar situation

3) Regulation -> positive reinforcement via rewards

Bandura believed behaviour reinforced by family members is the most prominent source of behaviour modelling

1 of 20

Social Learning Theory AO2/3

+ useful applications -> if we know children imitate behaviours we can be more careful and set better examples

+ theory makes sense -> obvious, we see children imitate things

- Reductionist -> ignores biological and envolutionary factors

+ explains inconsistencies -> people can be domineering at home but submissive at work

+ explains cultural differences -> !kung tribe known as the peaceful people, Yananamo tribe is aggressive

+ Bandura's Bobo doll study

  • 72 child pp's, half exposed to aggressive model & half non aggressive, half same sex model, half different sex model
  • control group of 24 -> no role model
  • before expereiment pp's aggressiveness measured
  • found children who watched aggressive model acted more aggressively towards the doll
  • gender made a significant difference
2 of 20

Theories of Aggression


Psychological state characterised by lowered self esteem and decreased concern about evaluation by others

leads to increase in behaviours that are usually inhibited by social norms

become deindividuated when in crowds/large groups and in situations where you are anonymous

Gustav le Bon, noticed individuals are capable of extraordinary acts of violence when part of a crowd duing the French revolution, he believed its was the unique properties of crowds causing this behaviour as people are less identifiable so feel less accountable for thier actions.

Festinger, came up with the term deindividuation, people lose themselves and act in ways they wouldn't otherwise do, become less aware and lose personal responsibility

3 of 20

Deindividuation AO2/3

- prosocial behaviour -> deindividuation doesn't always lead to aggression

- gender bias -> aggression as a result of deindividuation is more of a male characteristic -> links to evolutionary approach -> hunt in packs

+ cultural differences -> tribes that significantly alter their appearance via body paint act more aggressively e.g. torturing victims -> become anonymous

+ rehm et al, 2 teams playing handball, one in own clothes other wearing orange bibs, those wearing the bibs played more aggressively

- reductionist -> behavioural approach only -> could be biological, aggression caused by genes

+ real world application -> Mann, used concept of deindividuation to explain baiting crowds associated with suicide jumpers & Mullen, used it to explain behaviour of lynch mobs

4 of 20

Institutional Aggression

Importation Model - Irwin & Cressey

Prisoners bring in their own traits and personal histroy, pre existing personal & psychological factors affect aggression in prison

kane & Janus, alcohol, drugs, low education levels, unemployment and a more serious criminal reocord correlated with a greater likleyhood of aggression

race & age are important in influencing aggression

-> Kane & Janus, US non whites and younger inmates are more likely to act aggressively in prison as they are more likely to become disenfracnchised and separated from societies norms and values. They are more likely to join subcultures where aggression is valued and respected

3 subcultures:

1) Convict -> raised in prison system, seek positions of power/influnece, most likely to be aggressive

2) Criminal/theif -> follow norms and values of career criminal/perfessional thief e.g. don't betray others

3) conventional -> one time offenders, indentify with staff, least likely to be aggressive

5 of 20

Importation model AO2/3

+ detailed explanation -> variety of people and different categories used

- not everyone fits into the categories

- little practical use -> McCorkle, fails to provide suggestions on how to manage aggression

+ gang support -> looked at real life gangs for support on choosing categories

- Delisi, studied 800 inmates and found no evidence that gang members carried violent behaviour into prison

6 of 20

Institutional aggression

Deprivation Model - Sykes

situational model -> factors within institutions cause aggression e.g. overcrowding, noise and lack of meaningful activity

Deprivation of:

1) Liberty -> not trusted to live in free world, morally rejected by society

2) autonomy -> no power and have few choices, often not given explanations

3) good and services -> have no luxuries

4) heterosexual relationships -> important part of self identity, increased chance of homosexual encounters leads to greater anxiety

5) security -> fear for own safety, hightened sense of physical threat

suffering these deprivations cause some inmates to act aggressively to relieve stress and obtain desired resources

7 of 20

Deprivation model AO2/3

+  evidence to support claim that peer violence is used to reduce deprivation

-> McCorckle et al, found that overcrowding, lack of meaningful activity and lack of privacy all singnificantly increase peer violence

+ real world applications -> if we know what causes aggression then we know how to reduce it

-> however Nijaman found that increased personal space didn't decrease levels of violence

- McCorkle, suggests that levels of stress in prisons remains constant whereas out breaks of violence are rare, siggesting violence is due to bad management rather than deprivation

8 of 20

Biological Explanations

Neural mechanisms

seretonin -> low levels associated with aggression

seretonin works by inhbiting emotional stimuli that leads to violence, low levels means increased susceptibilty to impulsive & aggressive behaviour

Evidence -> Mann et al, drugs that deplete seretonin levels found to increase aggression


+ evidence using animals -> Raleigh et al, changed diets of vervet monkey using suplements that either increased or decreased seretonin, decrease led to more aggressive behaviour

-> - ethics of using animals

+ drugs that raise seretonin levels (antidepressants) reduce aggression

9 of 20

Neural mechanisms in aggression

Dopamine -> increased levels associated with aggression

evidence comes from studies using drugs:

Lavine, demonstrated it using amphetamines which caused increased aggressive behaviour

Buitelaar, reduced aggression using antipsychotics in violent delinquents


- causal role of dopamine inconclusive -> consequence rather than cause, dopamine released as a postive reinforcer when acting aggressively

10 of 20

Biological Explanations

Hormonal Mechanisms

testosterone -> high levels associated with aggression

Dabbs, highest levels found in criminals with the most violent criminal record, whereas lowest levels found in criminals with non-violent crimes

Lindman et al, found young males that act aggressively when drunk have higher levels than those who are not


- gender bias -> research mainy on males, testosterone also found in females

-> studies suggest successful women have higher levels as a result of being more assertive (characteristic of aggression)

11 of 20

Hormonal mechanisms in aggression

Cortisol -> low levels associated with aggression

cortisol inhibits testosterone so low levels causes an increase in testosterone resulting in aggresion

Virkkunen, low levels found in violent habitual offenders

Tennes & Kreye, low levels found in violent school children


- cause and effect -> most data corrlational, not all fators are measured

+ real world applications -> know what causes aggression so can prevent it

12 of 20

Biological Explanations

Genetic Factors

twin & adoption studies

twin -> MZ twins share all DNA, DZ only 50%. If MZ twins are alike in terms of aggressive behaviour then it suggests there is a strong genetic influence

McGuffin & Gottesman, found concordance rates of 87% for MZ and 72% for DZ

adoption -> if a possible correlation is found between adopted child and their aggressive behviour and the biological parent then it implies its genetic

if a stronger correlation is found between the adoptee and adoptive parents then its environmental

Mendrick, 14000 adoptees (all boys) with criminal records had a basline of 14%

boys with adoptive parents with criminal records = 15%

boys with biological parents with criminal records = 20%

boys with both having criminal records = 25%

-> genetics shown to be more influnetial

13 of 20

Twin & adoption studies AO2/3

- interpretation of results -> often they are muddled and unclear

- problems with measuring aggression -> what is aggression, how is it defined, use of questionnaires

- imperfect nature of adoption studies -> hard to find large numbers of MZ twins reared apart

+ Nature vs. Nurture -> should be clear which is exerting more influence

14 of 20

Biological Explanations

A gene for aggression

one of the genes responsible for producing MAOA is associated with aggression

MAOA regulates seretonin levels in the brain -> low levels = aggression

Brunner, study of a violent Dutch family, many of the men had abnormally low levels of MAOA and also had the defective gene that produces MAOA

Caspi et al, 2 variants of the gene for MAOA, one associated with high levels of MAOA and one with low levels. Those with low levels more likely to act aggressively but only if maltreated as children.

-> suggesting that the interaction between genes and the environment determines aggression


+ Bock & Goode, lack of gene for MAOA found in mice, caused them to be 2 x as a aggressive

- more than one gene that contributes to behaviour -> multiple genes for aggression??

- social/enivironmental influnences -> children learn through imitation

15 of 20

Evolutionary Explanations

Aggression serves the function to protect pre creation potential & for survival

a major concern for males is to find a mate and pass on genes

cuckoldry & sexual jealousy

men may experience parental uncertainty -> at risk of cuckoldry

sexual jealousy used to deter mate from sexual infidelity, minimising the risk of cuckoldry

Mate retention & violence

Buss, claims males evolved strategies to deter mates from infidelity

direct guarding = protection against attention from other males

threats = deter women from sexual infedlity by threatening to use violence

16 of 20

Evolutionary Explanations AO2/3

- gender bias -> studies shown that women use them retention strategies aswell

+ real world applications -> early signs of mate retention strategies in romantic relationships can alert family and friends of potential violence in that relationship

+ mate retention -> Shackleford, 214 pp's found women reported a higher use of verbal possession signals

+ explains uroroxide (wife killing) -> men gurad against their partners infidelity by giving benefits e.g. money, or by inflicting costs e.g. violence

if men can't offer any benefits then they incurr costs, Daly & Wilson suggest that wife killing maybe a unitended consequence of behaviours designed to control their partner

17 of 20

Explanations of Group Display

Lynch mobs

when groups feel at risk, survival becomes vital so aggression to outsiders is likely

Patterson claims lynch mobs were more active during social transition e.g. after abolotion of slavery because of the fear of negros, 'lynch law' was used as a social control.

power threat hypothesis used to explain this

-> Blalock, as minority group membership grows, majority group members intensify their efforts to remain dominant

groups that pose a threat to the majority are subject to violence -> negors seen as a threat


- Mullen, analysed 60 newspaper articals of lynchings and found an alternative explanation -> deindividuation, large groups leads to breakdown of self regulation and increased aggression

- contradictory evidence -> Clark performed a comparative study of lynchings in Brazil found that the threat of 'dangerous classes' e.g. negros was not a predictory factor in lynchings -> goes against power threat hypothesis

18 of 20

Explanations of Group Display

Religious Rituals

cost signalling theory -> engaging in painful group rituals signals your commitment to the group

adaptive response to act as a deterent to outsiders and allows them to maintain group cooperation


+ Sosis & Bressler, found religious groups impose twice as many costly commitments on members, compared to non-religious groups

-> shows that groups that require the greatest shows of commitment from members, produce the most commitment and last the longest

-> therefore they do serve as an adaptive response

+ real world application -> in times of need, religious group members provide collective social insurance and support the people most in need

19 of 20

Explanations of Group Display

Sport Events

xenophobia = an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers

natural selection favours genes that encourage altruism towards own group members but are intolerant to outsiders

serves as an adaptive response to protect against outsiders and their potentially negative impact

Podaliri & Balestri, analysed behaviour of Italian football crowds, found group display in the forms of chanting and banners which stressed differences between groups


+ real world applications -> xenophobic displays motivated many football clubs to take action against it e.g. celtic and rangers

- deterministic -> aggressive acts determined by being in a group, no account for free will (chose how you want to behave)

20 of 20


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Aggression resources »