PSYA3 - Relationships and Aggression

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Discuss explanations of institutional aggression (8 marks +16 marks)

Institutions, such as prisons, the army and psychiatric hospitals, can be violent places. Aggression can occur both within these institutions, and between different institutions or groups.

One explanation of aggression within groups or institutions is the Importation Model by Irwin and Cressey. This model states that each individual brings their own set of personal beliefs and values into the institution, for example religious beliefs, political views and opinions on homosexuality. As each individual brings in their beliefs, conflicts arise between members of the institution and violence and aggression result.

Support for this claim comes from Harer and Steffensmeier, who carried out a study of US prisoners. They found that black inmates had higher levels of violence, but lower levels of drug and alcohol related misconduct in the prisons than white inmates, and this reflected racial differences in the US outside of the prison environment. Therefore, it appeared that the inmates had ‘imported’ the social norms and values of their previous environment into the institution of the prison, thus support Irwin and Cressey’s theory. However, the findings of this study should be viewed with caution, due to issues with culture bias and population validity. The sample used only prisoners, who are mostly more violent individuals than the majority of society and it may therefore be inappropriate to generalise the findings of an investigation into this population to other groups such as psychiatric institutions. Furthermore this study was conducted in the US, which has its’ own unique set of social norms, beliefs and values. Consequently, it cannot be assumed that in Collectivist cultures, or even other individualistic cultures, that social norms and values will influence aggression within an institution in the same way.

It is also believed that gang membership prior to imprisonment may be a contributing factor to violence within prisons. The norms of street gangs is generally one of violence, and individuals from these groups who enter the prison environment may bring this culture with them, resulting in violence within the group.

DeLisi et al (2004) contradicted this claim, as they found that those who were in a street gang prior to their imprisonment showed no higher rates of aggression or violence that other prisoners. However, this may be explained by the fact that many individuals from gangs are kept isolated from other prisoners, and are therefore unable to act aggressively towards others.

The Deprivation Model (Paterline and Peterson) offers an alternative explanation of aggression within groups. This model suggests that it is the situational factors, or the oppressive conditions of the institution itself that contribute to aggression within groups. Factors such as overcrowding (which leads to an increased sense of frustration and fear) and lack of staff experience is all thought to contribute to an increase in aggression within groups.

This has received empirical support from Hodgkinson, who found that trainee nurses are much more likely than experienced nurses to be the subjects of violent assaults by patients. This…


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