AQA Psychology Unit 3 - Aggression

AQA Psychology Unit 3 - Aggression

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  • Created on: 19-04-11 13:29


  • Social psychological theories of aggression, for example social learning theory and deindividuation
  • Explanations of institutional aggression
  • The role of neural and hormonal mechanism in aggression
  • The role of genetic factors in agrressive behaviour
  • Evolutionary explanations of human aggression, including infidelity and jealousy
  • Explanations of group displays in humans, for example sports events and lynch mobs
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Social Learning Theory

Learn behaviours through observing and imitating aggressive models, and is strengthened and maintained if it has reinforcement.

Bandura -> bobo doll study 1965. Shows that children were more likely to be aggressive when positively reinforced or there was no reinforcement compared to negative reinforcement. HOWEVER. -biased sample (kids, from same nursery in america), models were adults (would child models have same effect?), children were aggravated by not being allowed to play with toys straight away in first place, ethics (encouraged to be agg? consent?), operationalisation of dv?, lacks eco validity.

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Loss of personal identity and responsibility when we are for example in a large crowd or wearing a mask as feel less constrained by the norms of social behaviour and feel they are able to behave in an anti-social way.

Milgram -> pps were more likely to give higher electric shocks when could not see victim - they were deindividuated. when in same room they were more likely to give lower level shocks

Zimbardo -> repeated milgram's experiement with pps wearing either a name tag (individuated) or a white cloack (deindividuated). The latter gave higher level shocks

Diener -> observed children at halloween, and when they refused to give their name and remain anonymous to the houseowner, they were later found to behave more anti-socially by stealing money or extra chocolate when left alone.

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Institutional Aggression

Aggression in institutions such as prisons, schools, police, military; ranging from ritual humiliation, abuse to things such as genocide.

Milgram -> Agentic State, the state of mind in which individuals believe they are acting for someone else, they are the other person's agent and so do not have personal responsibility for their actions. -> This could be the reason why people were 'aggressive' - they were following orders.

Similarly those miltary people accused of crimes against humanity in the Vietnam war, and in the prison atrocities comittied by the American and British military are believed to have acted due to following orders/agentic state however in the eyes of the law this is not seen as an excuse!

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Social Identity Theory

People's membership of a group reflects their own self esteem. They identify with their group and compare it to others and consider their group (the ingroup) to be superior. This can result in exaggerating any difference and making assumptions that members of the outgroup are less worth than themselves. This can lead to rivalry and intense and violent conflict.

Tajfel 1966; british children's attitudes to other countries - found that they had a preference for their own country and worked together agreeing about facts and opinions for other countries. The children's tv workship worked with universities in Israel and Palesinte in the 90's and found that even pre-school children spoke about the other group as bad people who hurt their own group's people. This confirms that intergroup prejudice is learnt at an early age and may be an innate tendency as it would strengthen group identity and cohesion.

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  • Looking at police/army officers and prisoners - the prinsoners are seen as bad people and their harsh treatment may be justified as 'they deserve it'. This view is reinforced by the ingroups beliefs that they are the good people who may have been in/directly harmed by the outgroup
  • Janis challenges view as suggests it does not allow for the fact that we can belong to more than one group at a time, and so has low mundane realism
  • Brain Scanning  shows that agreeing with your own group even if doubtful, does not activate areas of brain that deal with conflict whereas arguing or disagreeing with your group activates these, which Zimbardo interprets as taking on an emotional burden. This suggests that complying with one's own group even if you have doubts, is less stressful than challenening them.
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Biological Explanations

Stress Hormones - positive correlation between noradrenaline and aggression = increased heart rate = fight or flight response. BUT causation??

Seretonin - low levels of seretonin are linked with aggression (Virkkunen 1985) - Vervet monkeys given seretonin were less agressive, and when seretonin was decreased they became more aggressive - Research shows that having too little of the MAO-A gene leads to the brain being flooded with too much seretonin and therefore leads to a lowered sensitivity to the seretonin. Moffat et al - New Zealand study of males found a link between MAO-A and violent crime however only when the person had suffered abuse as a child suggesting that it is a gene-environmental interaction and genes predispose us but it needs an environmental trigger too. Study has C&G bias!

Testosterone - correlation found between testosterone and aggression  - Castrated animals are less aggressive (ethics, good science?); King et al: Milgram exp on puppies. Women were more agg as gave higher shocks so goes against testosterone theory but agentic shift? eco valid? obdience or aggressive? how measure agg?

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Sandberg 1971, found the 47XYY Karyotype. An extra Y male chromosome.

Court-Brown 1965, found that a sample of 314 patients in a high security hospital, 15 had chromosomal defects, and 9 of them had XYY. Suggesting that the extra Y may predispose these men to increased agg behaviour. He also suggested that XYY people should be locked up straight away - ethics?

However further research found a link between XYY men being taller than average but no link to increased aggression, and no higher levels of testosterone! Suggesting there is no link between XYY and aggression!

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Heritability Studies

Twins - Rutter et al  - meta analysis (less good science though due to filedrawer effect) - twin studies on criminality and found that DZ twins have concordance of 13-22% while MZ have 26-51% suggesting an genetic influence. BUT they have same environment and it is not 100% so shows there is SOME environmental influences and that genetics only predisposes people and is not whole cause!

Adoption- Mednick 1987 - criminal records of danish children adopted outside their biological familes, and found their records were more similar to their biological parents than adoptive parents suggesting a genetic component in aggression! And having an aggressive biological and adoptive father increased the child's aggression even further.

Evaluation of Heritability Studies

A lot of the studies look at criminiality which may not be accuarate as not all criminal acts are aggressive such as speeding or other fines!

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Evolutionary Explanations - Aggression as an Adapt

  •  We compete for boy/girlfriends all the time as a way to passing on our genes! The competition leads to jealousy. It is a genetic behaviour because it is found in all cultures and often leads to aggressive behaviour
  • Men not wanting to invest resources into a child not possessing their genes - physical fidelity. So a man would be jealous if found a woman with another man. Can be used to explain why men are aggressive to partners children from previous relationships e.g. Nicholas Halling killing Deraye Lewis in 2006
  • Women are reliant on a man's resources and focuse on emotional fidelity. Pregnancyetc is expensive in terms of energy and time so a woman needs a man's resources. If he is unfaithful she risks her child's survival and so leads to agg to remove other women to secure resources for herself. Lorena Bobbit is an example of a woman whose jealousy led to aggression towards her husband! (Cut of his penis and threw it in a field as shen caught him cheating)
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  • Buunk et al: women focus on emotional fidelity whereas men focus on physical fedility
  • Recent findings challenge this and say that men and women are affected by both - Harris 2002
  • xplantion needs re-evaluating and applying to more modern times
  • Does not explain homosexuals who are aggressive
  • Does not take into account some step parents who can be very loving to step-kids


  • The ****** is unattractive to women - mate deprivation hypothesis
  • The ****** has maladaptive sexuality with regard to the drive to increase the numbers of his offspring
  • Anger and hostility towards women drive ******s
  • However issues as unreported ****s make data unreliable.
  • Does not explain why menopausal women are ***** though as they are infertile, or why men **** their wives!
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Group Displays

Displays of aggressive behaviour by groups. Looking at animals this display is an adaptive response that minimises actual aggressive contact. Can be argued that miltary displays (i.e. Trooping the Colour) is an aggressive display and a chance to show off strength and armoury. There is also a clear link between aggressive crowd behaviour and college football in the USA - fans imitating behaviour on pitch?

Philips 1986 three days following a boxing match there was a significant increase in homocide rates between 1973 and 1978.


  • Social Learning Theory - this should apply across all sports but does not seem to be same effect in rugby in the UK as football in the USA.
  • Frustration Aggression Hypothesis - if your team is not expected to win then losing is not unexpected but if you are expected to win and you don't, then this can lead to frustration and therefore aggressive behaviour. The aggression is an attempt to recoup lost self-esteem?
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Lynch Mobs

A collection of people who intend to take a person and kill them without recourse to legal action. At times victims have even been broken out ot jail inorder to execute them!

  • Sociological Power Threat Hypothesis - lynchings increase as a function of the realtive number of a minority living in a community which is thouh to offer an explanation fo the lyching of african americans in the US.
  • Psychological Self-attention Theory - lynchings increase as a function of the size of the mob

Hovland and Seer 1940 - Studied black people and found lynchings were more frequent in times where the price of cotton was low and they concluded that mov violence against the blacks responded to economic conditions affecting the financial fortunes of the whites.  - Support for Frustration-aggression hypothesis

Psychodynamic Theory - A build of up negative energy can explode as aggressive behaviour and in a group situation individuals form a primal horde.

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What is C&G bias?

Iram Yasin

C AND G bias refers to cultural and gender bias


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