What is the debate?
It is debated whether institutional aggression is caused by individual factors (the Importation Model) or situational factors (the Deprivation Model).Institutional aggression refers to aggressive behaviour that occurs in an organisation in which behaviour is normally restricted or controlled (e.g. the army or prisons). As a result aggression may be caused by social forces in the environment itself, or by the people who are drawn to the environment, rather than more general anger or frustration.
Outline individual factors
Arguing for the role of individual factors the Importation Model (Irwin and Cressey) argue that aggression in prisons is caused by individuals with pro-aggressive personalities, who import aggression into prisons due to a range of previous risk factors, such as: drug or alcohol dependence, lower levels of education and socio-economic status, poor employment history, previous criminal behaviour, and gang membership. Kane and Janus (1981)argue that these groups are disenfranchised, or socially excluded from mainstream norm that reject violence, and often exist in sub-cultures (e.g. gangs) where aggression is valued. In this way, aggressive individuals import aggression into prisons.
Outline situational factors
On the other hand, arguing for the role of situational factors, the deprivation models states that institutional aggression is caused by situational factors within the institution itself. According to Sykes, environments (like prisons) that deprive individuals of their usual freedoms cause people to experience 'pains', which cause stress and frustration and that lead to aggression. Sykes argues that institutional aggression is caused by: a loss of freedom or independence, as prisoners' behaviour is tightly restricted (uniforms), discomfort, due to the uncomfortable conditions in prisons (camps), a loss of heterosexual relationships, which an important part of male identity, and insecurity due to a fear of attach from other prisoners (attack from enemy). In this way, institutional aggression is caused by the prison environment itself.
Give two pieces of research to support IF
Strong evidence to support the role of individual factors (importation model) in institutional aggression comes from Poole and Regoli (1983), who found that pre-institutional violence was the best predictor of aggression amongst juvenile inmates. This suggests that aggression is imported into prisons by people with pro-aggressive personalities.
Additionally, strong evidence to support the role of individual factors in institutional aggression comes from Adams, who found that American Black prisoners with a history of gang membership were more likely to show aggression than other prisoners. This shows that aggression is imported into prisons by people with pro-aggressive personalities; suggested by the importation model.
Give research evidence to criticise IF
On the other hand, strong evidence against the role of individual factors in institutional aggression comes from DeLisi, who found no evidence that gang membership prior to prison increased the violence of prisoners. This suggests that aggression is not imported into prisons, contradicting the model.
Give two pieces of research to support SF
Convincing evidence to support the role of situational factors in institutional aggression comes from Magaree, who found that the more over-crowded a prison, the greater the number of incidences of aggressive behaviour. This suggests that aggression is caused by situational factors within the institutional itself, as suggested by the deprivation model.
Finally, the most convincing evidence to support the role of the situational factors in aggression comes from Zimbardo's Stanford Prison experiment, in which males 'guards' behaved increasingly aggressively towards 'prisoners' in a simulated prison environment. Zimbardo explained their aggression due to the deprivation of the situation, which caused the Lucifer Effect, when coupled with the deindividuation of the guards (e.g. sunglasses); their lack of supervision; and the dehumanisation of the prisoners. As he described under these conditions "good people can be initiated into behaving in evil ways".
Why are explanations of IA considered beta-biased?
A limitation of both explanations of institutional aggression is that they are beta-biased because they unfairly minimise differences between men and women. This is because the research to support both the Importation and Deprivation Models has relied on male participants. Meaning the findings have been unfairly applied to all people (including women). This is particularly true as there are clear differences in the male and female prison populations, with more that 80,000 male prisoners, and less than 4,000 female prisoners in the UK, suggesting genuine gender differences in aggression.
IA explanations culturally absolute or eurocentric
Despite this, a strength of both explanations of institutional aggression is that they are culturally absolute because they can be fairly applied to all cultures, as all are likely to have prisons that cause pains or prisoners with pro-aggressive personalities.
Alternatively, however, other psychologists might criticise explanations of institutional aggression for being Eurocentric because all research has been carried out in western prisons and unfairly applied cross-culturally.
Why are explanations of IA considered parsimonious
Even so, another strength of both explanations of institutional aggression is that they are parsimonious because they provide a justifiably simplistic explanation of institutional aggression that is supported by research (Zimbardo).
What is the conclusion?
Due to the contradictory nature of research, it is clear that both individual and situational factors must be used to explain institutional aggression.