Aggression, Altruism and morality

  • Created by: Shannon
  • Created on: 08-01-15 06:17


"Any action intended to injure or harm another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment" - Dodge et al. 2006.

  • Hostile: Goal to harm victim
  • Instrumental: (Begins at 12 months and declines in yr 2) Harming another as a means to an end
  • 2-3yrs - Physical retaliation begins
  • 3-5yrs - Physical retaliation declines, replaced by verbal aggression
  • Physical aggression becomes rare in middle childhood - decline in instrumental but slight increase in hostile.

Sex differences

  • Boys more aggressive than girls - rougher play with parents, more accepted than girl's aggression, gender-typing of toys, females are more relationally aggressive (covert).
  • Overt aggression in both decreases in adolescence, but...
  • Relational aggression in females increases
  • Indirect aggression in males increases
  • Aggression is a relatively stable attribute, as an aggressive toddler is likely to be an aggressive 5yr old and agdressive behaviour between the ages 3-10 can predict anti-social behaviour in later life. 
  • Huesman, Eron, Lefkowitz and Walder (1984) Found those who were in high aggression group aged 8 committed more crimes by age 30. 
  • Boys more likely to be physically bullied
  • Girls more likely to be psychologically bullied.
  • Most common ages 10-13
  • Chronic victims generally disliked by peers
  • Passive victims: withdrawn and weak, do not invite aggression
  • Provocative victims: Irritate peers and fight back unsuccessfully. 

Individual Differences

  • <5% highly aggressive 
  • 15% report being bullied 
  • Proactive aggressors - aggression will produce tangible benefits: enhanced self-esteem. Often plan an aggressive response to achieve and instrumental goal. They feel capable of dominating others to achievea positive outcome.
  • Reactive aggressors - hostile, retaliatory aggression- wary of others. Likely to develop a hostile attribution bias (attribute ambiguous situations as serious and so react aggressively)
  • Differences have been found in aggression in non-violent societies vs. violent societies.
  • If parents are emotionally withdrawn and detached from conflict, this causes negative consequences on the child's aggression.

Dodge's (1994) social information processing model

All affected by child's mental state: Past social experiences, Social expectancies, Knowledge of social rules, Emotionality/emotional regulation skills. 

  1. Encode social cues
  2. Interpret social cues
  3. Formulate social goals 
  4. Generate problem soliving strategies
  5. Evaluate effectiveness of strategies and select a response
  6. Enact a response

Reactive Agression Model (Siegler (1996))

  1. Situational inferences of hostile intent trigger....
  2. Aggressive retaliation, which leads to....
  3. Hostile conterattacks and rejection by peers reinforce....
  4. Aggressive child's expectancies about peers' hostile intent, causing biased scanning of social cues, yeilding stage 1 again....

How to control aggression

Environment: remove aggressive toys and provide plenty of space

Eliminating payoffs for aggression: 

- Attention aquisition - Aggression does not result in desired outcome

- Incompatible response technique - ignore aggression, time-out and reinforse prosocial acts.

- Social-cognitive interventions for older children - Teach to regulate anger, increase empathy, decrease hostile attributions and generate non-aggressive solutions to conflicts. 

The Irie Classrooms Toolbox

Irie is a Jamaican word to describe a feeling of happiness, contentment and harmony. The Jamaican teachers taught to use behaviour management strategies that have been shown to work. They also provide a more emotionally supportive classroom environment and use less corporal punishment.


  • Children showed less aggression
  • Reductions in high-risk misconduct
  • Increased social skills within the home and school 
  • Fewer aggressive and disruptive behaviours
  • Increased interest and enthusiasm in learning activities.
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Defined as a selfless concern for the welfare of others and willingness to act on that concern. Children with well-developed role-taking skills are more helpful. 

Development trends in Altruism

  1. 12-18mths: Offer toys
  2. Toddlers: Can express sympathy
  3. 2-3yrs: Show sympathy and compassion more so during pretend play rather than completing spontaneaous acts of self-sacrifice
  4. 4-6yrs: More real helping acts, more common in girls

Empathy: Ability to experience the emotions of others

  • Sympathetic empathetic arousal leads to increases in concern for others
  • Relationship between empathy and altruism is low in preschool age but increases with age.
  • Parents can aid prosocial behaviour by teaching children to have personal responsibility for harm they have caused, urge helpful responses to victims, giving social rather than material rewards and modelling empathetic concern and prosocial acts. 
  • Whiting and Whiting (1975) found alrtuism more common in collectivist societies

The felt-responsibility hypothesis

Sympathetic empathetic arousal causes child to reflect on altruistic lessons. This results in child assuming personal responsibility for aiding people in distress. Parents who are altruistic and discipline children in ways that encourage them to accept personal responsibility for harm that they have caused and urge a helpful response to victim. 

Definition of Morality

  • Distinguish right from wrong
  • Act upon that distinction
  • Experience pride in virtuous conduct
  • Experience shame over acts that violate standards
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