Aggression booklet 1

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  • Created by: Ikra Amin
  • Created on: 18-02-15 17:08

The nature and causes of aggression

What features are identified as aggressive?: Intention to hurt someone. Purpose and motive and planning time (thought involved).

Aggression is one form of anti-social behaviour. 

What is aggression?: Aggression is deliberately  hurting or attempting to hurt someone either physically or verbally. 

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Social Learning Theory - 1st social explanation

AO1 description: 

  • This theory suggests aggression is a LEARNED behaviour. Humans are therefore not born aggressive ('Tabula Rasa'). 
  • Therefore humans accquire aggressive behaviour through OBSERVATION and IMITATION of others which is otherwise known as VICARIOUS LEARNING.
  • Example: if a young child sees their dad shouting/beating mum the child might think this is ok).
  • Aggression that is reinforced will be repeated and learnt. 
  • Example: agression that is seen to be reinforced in others like social approval in aggressive gangs.
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AO1 continued..

Bandura argued that SLT has 4 basic processes:

  • 1) ATTENTION = Learning through observation occurs by attending to a model's behaviour. For example, children must be paying attention to what an aggressor is doing and saying in order to reproduce the aggression.
  • 2) RETENTION = In order to reproduce the modelled behaviour, individuals must code and recall behaviour by placing it into LTM, enabling the behaviour to be retreived. 
  • 3) PRODUCTION = Individualds must be capable of reproducing the model's behaviour and therefore have the skills and capabilities needed to copy the aggression.
  • 4) MOTIVATION = Individuals expect to receive positive reinforcements for modelled behaviour and this helps to motivate their behaviour. 
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AO1 cont

There are factors influencing imitative behaviour like:

  • Social approval
  • Peer pressure
  • If you see the person as a role model (has to be admired)  - particular if the models similar to you (sex,age,interests) - more likely to imitate
  • Neighbourhood-number of times exposed to aggression
  • The aggressive act to model is not too difficult - has to be easier to do
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AO2 R. Evidence for SLT

Bandura (1965) supporting the SLT Aims: To see whether aggressive behaviour can be learnt through observation and imitation.

  • Method: Children aged 3-5 (36 male & 36 female) took part and also one adult in each condition (room)
  • When children first entered room they found adult and toys 
  • 2 conditions. condition 1 = non-agressive (adult ignored bobo doll). condition 2 = aggressive (adult was punching, hitting, shouting etc. at the bobo doll)

Results & conclusion:

  • The children do what they saw the adult do in the aggressive condition. Demonstrated physical and verbal aggression towards the doll (shouting, kicking, punching)
  • More likely to copy if they were observing the same gender model
  • They imitated aggression and then acted even more aggressive than the adult did.
  • Conclusion: Children will show aggressive behaviour after observing an adult behave in an aggressive manner, such as punching, shouting and kicking the doll when watching the adult, and more so if the adult was the same gender. 
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AO2 evaluation of bobo doll studies

Methodology criticised on a number of issues:

  • Operationalisation of the DV. The studies didn't involve harming another person, but an inflatable doll. Some psychologists question whether punching an inflatable doll is a valid measure of aggression. However, Johnston et al found a correlation between play aggression and ratings of aggression by peers and teachers. 
  • The Bobo doll is actually designed to be hit. What other ways could you respond to it? Therefore you could argue that it was demand characteristics and the children believed that they were meant to hit the doll. BUT, the children didn't hit the doll when the adult didn't. 
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Further AO2

Bandura found that there is more aggression in high crime rate areas than in low crime rate areas, suggesting that acts of violence are being imitated. However there may be other factors involved, such as unemployment, or lack of educational opportunities. IDA/AO2 issue here: too simplistic and cause and effect: how do we know aggression is due to high crime rate? could be other factors causing aggression. 

Williams found that the level of verbal and physical aggression among children in a remote Canadian community increased after the introduction of tv, suggesting that the tv was an influential source of imitative aggression. However the study does not show if this increase in aggression had a long term impact. 

Charlton et al (2000). Charlton assessd the level of aggression in children on the island of St. Helena before and after the intro of the satellite tv in 1995. Levels of aggression among the children were initially low, and remained so after tv was introduced, suggesting that exposure to aggression through the media does not necessarily mean there will be a rise in imitating aggression. 

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cont.. need 3 r.evidence names for SLT

Cooper and Mckay found that after children aged between 9 and 20 had played aggressive video games, acts of aggression increased in girls, but not in boys, suggesting that there may be a gender difference. 

Methodological problems that there might be in measuring aggression levels due to media:

  • Can only look at short term impacts not long term
  • How do you know the effects are due to the media - EV (Other factors)
  • Individual differences - people may react differently to media
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further eval of SLT - AO2

Strength: It can explanation cultural variations of aggression. There are enourmous variations between cultures in terms of aggressive behaviours and SLT can account for these, because it allows for the influence of social norms. Societies where there is very little aggression (such as the Amist in USA) demonstrate the powerful role played by learning over biology.

SLT has much research support - especially concerning the influence of media sources on imitative aggressiom, although such findings are not without criticism. Many people argue that the explanation is too simplistic. For example the SLT does not account for the role of environmental factors in aggressive behaviour.

Social learning can be argued to be more powerful than biology because there are societieis such as the Amish who are non aggressive. 

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IDA Link: SLT can explain peoples levels of aggression varying between situations, by means of them being reinforced to be aggressive, and in varying ways, in different situations. If aggression was biologically determined, we would expect aggression levels to be consistent across situations.

IDA: Other IDA/AO2 points: 

Practical applications:

  • Do not let children watch aggressive TV/movies/play aggressive video games
  • Parents should not shout/swear/fight in front of children
  • Put age restriction on aggressive video games, movies etc. 
  • Encourage good behaviour role models (e.g. in cartoons)

Too simplistic:

  • Does not take environmental factors into account
  • Deterministic: we are a product of our past learning experience
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Deindividuation - 2nd explanation

Deindividuation is defined as the loss of a sense of identity and a loosening of normal inhibitions against engaging in behaviour that is inconsistent with internal standards. 

In other words: When someones sense of identity is taken away. If you are a part of a group you think you are no longer responsible because the sense of identity is gone.

How could deindividuation explain aggression?

  • If someone is part of a group they may act aggressively and feel like they aren't responsible for it.
  • If everyone else acts aggressively it seems like the norm. 
  • It's similar to making an agentic shift, you've lost your morals so you don't feel responsible. You can act aggressive as the person thinks it is not their fault.
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Le Bon proposed a number of ways that an individual becomes psychologically transformed in a crowd. 

The 2st is anonymity. Le Bon suggested that the more anonymous the crowd, the greater the threat of extreme action. A collectivist mindset takes over and the crowd acts as one, with an individual becoming submerged into the crowd and losing self control. When you lose control you start acting in an aggressive way. 

Zimbardo took this further and added that reduced responsibility, increased arousal, sensory overload and altered consciousness due to drugs or alcohol play an important part. 

In the 1980s a new model of deindividuation was proposed by Diener. He proposed that people behave in scripted ways, without conscious awareness. When others evaluate an inidividual, the others become self aware. In a group situation, the individual's capacity for self awareness becomes blocked, leading to deindividuation. 

An example of this is at sports events, where fans are so involved in focusing on a game that they are no longer self aware - even through chanting (verbal aggression)

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ao1 cont..

There are 2 types of self awareness;

Public self awareness: The individual is concerned about the impression presented of them to others 

Private self awareness: Where the individual is concerned for their thoughts and feelings.

Becoming immersed in a crowd/group causes loss of both private and public awareness. 

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Eval for deindividuation theory ao2Silke

AO2 R. Evidence: Zimbardo asked female ps to dress in white lab coats and hoods to render them anonymous (felt anonymous - lost private awareness). A control group wore ordinary clothes and had name tags displated (did feel responsible). Ps had to deliver what they believed to be pretend shocks to a victim. Results found that anonymous p's gave more shocls than the control group.

The study shows (AO2 commentary) ; 

This study links back to deindividuation as the women in white coats and hoods lost their private self awareness therefore their self awareness becomes blocked, leading to deindividuation as collectivist mindset takes over. Whereas the women in normal clothes and name tags still felt responsible for their actions and didn't lose self control; thus adminstering a lower electric shock. 

AO2: Silke (2003) found that people who were disguised perpetrated (ie more aggressive) 41% of violent assaults in N. Ireland. The more severe the assault, the more likely it was that the attacker was disguised, suggesting that disguises deindividuate people, reducing guilt and fear of punishment. 

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Ao2 cont

Mullen (1986) analysed newspaper articles about lynchings which happened in the USA between 1899-1946. Results found that the larger the numbers in the lynch mob, the more viciously the victims were killed. 


However, research is mixed. Postmes and Spears conducted a meta analysis of 60 research studies, concluding that there was insufficient support for the theory. Neither disinhibition or anti normative behaviour are found to be more common in large groups and crowded, anonymous settings. Research often fails to consider whether the anonymity of the victims of aggression or of the aggressors themselves leads to high levels of aggression. 

Further evaluation points:

  • Some psychologists argue that deindivuation doesn't take into consideration gender differences. In a number of studies more aggression can be seen in males rather than females, regardless of uniform. 
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Deindividuation cannot explain why many crowds or groups do not engage in aggressive behaviour. 

Some critics argue that the aggressive behaviour seen in some social psychological experiments is not a consequence of deindividuation but a consequence of the 'norms' or 'social roles' associated with the uniform that the p's are wearing. 

It has been argued that the brutality demonstrated by the guards in the SPE was a consequence of perceived social roles (Suggested by the uniforms) rather than the deindividuation.

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Practical applications of deindividuation:

  • Don't allow clothing (like hoodies) that will deindividuate people
  • Having smaller groups of prisoners
  • Refer to prisoners by their true identity  - not their number
  • Remove prison uniforms

Reductionist/too simplistic:

  • Some people aggressive on their own - could be genetic link
  • Doesn't take genetics into account or upbringing


  • Something may be seen as aggressive in one culture but not another
  • Deindividuation theory not applicable to all cultures (collectivist culture and individualist)
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explanations of institutional aggression

An institution is an organisation or establishment founded for a specific purpose. (E.g hospital,prison) 

There are two types of institutional aggression:

  • Instrumental aggression:  institutional groups sharing a common identity and aims, like the police, army, or terrorists gangs tend to use aggression in a non-emotive way e.g. a calculated means of achieving goals.
  • Hostile aggression: People living in institutions like prison using aggression emerging from emotional states, like anger and frustration. 
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Theories of prison aggression focus on 2 explanati


  • AO1: It says aggression occurs because of characteristics that prisoners bring inside with them. Cheeseman (2003) said that men in prison have a certain way of behaving and they then apply that behaviour to their new institutional setting. This suggests that young people can be aggressive both on the street and in prison. Violence in prison is not a consequence of the prison environment, but an inevitable consequence of the characteristics of those who enter prison. Violence seen in prison is an extension of antisocial behaviour. 

Characteristics of prisoner that may influence aggression:

  • Violent personality/temper
  • Hostility
  • Lack of empathy
  • Impatient
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AO2 R.Evidence

Supporting research:

  • Keller & Wange (2005) higher levels of assault on staff by inmates in maximum security prison than in lower security prison. AO2 commentary: This study supports the importation model because prisoners who were in maximum security are more likely to have committed a more violent crime, so taking more of their violent personality into prison with them.
  • Poole & Regoli (1983) involved 4 juvenile correctional institutions, found that the pre-institutionalisational violence was a reliable predicter of inmate aggression. AO2 commentary: Saying they were already violent before going into prison. The more violent they were before going in, the more aggressive they were in prison. 
  • Knox et al (1996) racial and ethnic tensions that exist in mainstream American society are imported into prison and play a role in the aggression and violence seen in the prisons. 50% of US state officials say racical conflicts were a problem among inmates. AO2 commentary: Racial and ethnic tension already existed before going to prison (eg already racist outside of prison, so will be in prison as well) 
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extra AO1:

two important demographic variables influencing aggression in prison are RACE and AGE. Evidence from the USA shows that non-whites and younger inmates are far more likely to be aggressive while in prison. Many of these individuals live in a subculture where aggression is valued, respected and reinforced. These sub-cultural forces have influenced them to be aggressive in many contexts - in their home, in their neighbourhood and in the prison institution. This is called being defranchised. 

Irwin and Cressey (1962)said there were 3 categories of prisoner subcultures, these are the criminal or theif subculture, the convict subculture and the conventional or straight subculture. 

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AO2 of importation model

  • Criticised for failing to provide suggestions for how to manage aggressive prisoners and to reduce prison violence in general.
  • Instead of viewing inmates as influenced by one set of shared values, it looks at subcultures within prisons, a view supported by research, which is thus superior to just assuming one culture. 
  • Most studies are carried out in US prisons, UK prisons may differ
  • There's no practical applications suggested by the model as to how to prevent aggression 
  • Nature side of nature/nurture debate. Sees aggression as a product of innate personality imported into prison (ie influence of nature) 
  • Gender biased as most research has focused on male prisoners. Males have different profiles to females. Female prisoners turn to inward aggression (self harm) but females also develop strong bonds with each other
  • Simplistic to view 1 model for providing whole explanations of institutional aggression. Better to have an explanation that integrates deprivation and importation models. 
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IDA for importation model

The importation model used to explain aggression is very gender biased in terms of trying to explain institutional aggression in prisons. The research to support this model focuses predominantly on male prisoners and not females. This is problematic as male prisoners have different profiles to female prisoners. Females turn to inward aggression (self harm) whereas studies show that male prisoners act aggressively whether it is physical or verbal. Female prisoners also form strong bonds with each other whilst in prison. However, this is due to the fact that more males tend to go to prison than females and so this is why males are included in research studies more. Due to this gender bias it is hard to generalise the findings to female prisoners, as it is known their behaviour is different to a male prisoners in a couple of ways.

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deprivation model - explanation 2

AO1) Sykes (1958) - according to the deprivation model, although the prisoners import their histories and cultural norms, the prison environment plays an important part in exploring the aggression shown by inmates. Condition s of confiement largely mould inmates behaviour. This model argues that the aggressive behaviour of inmates originates in the deprivation they experience on a daily level. Sykes outlined 5 deprivations that lead to aggressive behaviour: 

  • The prisoners deprived of their liberty (free will, they wear uniforms and they have to ask before they eat, sleep interact etc)
  • The prisoners deprived of autonomy (they have no power and few choices to make - can lead to feelings of helplessness and frustration which can lead to aggression) 
  • The prisoners deprived their goods (don't have mobile phones, laptop etc. which can make prisoners feel a sense of failure)
  • The prisoners deprived of heterosexual relationships (many straight men find female companionship to be part of their self identity - being deprived thus reduces mens feeling of self worth and homosexual behaviour in prison can lead to anxiety)
  • The prisoners deprived of security (other prisoners are violent and aggressive which makes them feel threatened)
  • These  deprivations result in increased levels of stress and aggression towards others
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AO2 r.evidence

McCorkle (1993) investigated fears of victimisation among 300 state inmates housed in a max security prison. Nearly half of the sample reported a concern about being attacked. AO2 commentary: 50% deprived of security. However, 50% don't feel unsafe. Also it may support importation model, as they're in a max security prison. 

Cheeseman (2003) found that with much prison aggression there's a lack of real purpose or goal, other than to reduce stress. This suggests that factors of deprivation can lead to stress, which then expresses itself as violence. AO2 Commentary: This is to gain control over stress by being aggressive.

Johnston (1991) found that prison overcrowding leads to increased aggression due to increased competition for resources and the tendancy to adopt violence defensive behaviours, suggesting situational factors are at play. AO2 commentary: Deprivation of goods, more people leads to things being stolen. Also deprivation of security.

McCorkle et al examined individual and collective acts of aggression in 371 US prisons. Results showed that the deprivation model was not useful in explaining rates of prison violence. Infact, the study shows that prison aggression occurrs as a result of poor management practices. 

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AO2 eval for deprivation model

  • Methodological difficulties - much prison aggression has unexplained motives, making it difficult to conduct research and draw firm conclusions. After abuse within institutions becomes public knowledge, it's common for dispositional explanations to be offered. E.g. if institution blames 1 or 2 inmates the institution looks better and not at fault.
  • Gender bias - most research has involved males. This limits generalisability to female inamtes. Explanations for female aggression in prisons may be different from those for male inamtes e.g. women self harm. However, men are more likely to be in prison so pre dominantly studied.
  • Simplistic: The model can be argued to be too simplistic as a whole explanation. New investigators of institutional aggression are moving towards explanations that integrate deprivation, importation and situational effects. There is increasing evidence that poor prison management and control is more significant factor in contributing to violence (McCorkle). However not as simplistic as importation model as it takes into account that people take their histories and norms in with them, so is a little more holistic.
  • Culture bias: USA research limits generalisability of findings.
  • Nurture side of nature/nurture debate - it says it's due to deprivation
  • Practical applications - allow some minor decisions and choices also don't overcrowd prisons. 
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