Antisocial Behaviors and Aggression
• What is aggression, and how does it differ (if at all) from violence?
There are many different definitions of “aggression” in the psychological literature
As a working definition:
(1) Overt behavior that is intended to cause physical or mental harm to someone/thing
(2) Perpetrated against someone/thing that does not want to be harmed
(3) Direct / indirect; active / passive; physical / verbal
Violence is usually a product of aggression and is usually performed for physical harm to someone. That
is only part of the definition of aggression as aggression can be expressed in different contexts.
• What is hostile aggression? What is instrumental aggression? Give examples.
Hostile aggression is driven by the desire to inflict harm for its own sake. Example: Anger
towards a particular person that causes you to lose control of yourself and have one goal in mind,
to brutally hurt someone in order to reduce that arousal/anxiety/anger.
Instrumental aggression is driven by the desire to inflict harm to obtain some additional goal
(other than inflicting harm). Example: In order to receive some personal gains, you cause harm to
others in a physical or emotional manner.
• In what ways can aggression be rewarding to the aggressor? (or, at least, perceived as rewarding)
Aggression can be perceived as rewarding to the aggressor because it helps cope with the anxiety created
by aversive events and also provides the aggressor the sense of authority or dominance. This dominance
provides them with the belief that they can achieve what they desire through acts of aggression upon
• What is the difference between physical aggression and relational aggression? What gender differences
have been observed with respect to the use of these forms of aggression?
Physical aggression is where hostile or some sort of physical action/behaviour intended to create harm to
someone. Most often when talking about aggression, there is intent behind actions/behaviours. Relational
aggression or emotional aggression is more focused on verbal assaults. The key difference with relational
aggression is that it can involve the withholding of things. It could either be withholding some positive or
introducing something negative. Withholding food from someone starving could be considered as an act
of physical aggression. Relational aggression could also include things such as the silent treatment.
Physical aggression is usually exerted by males and relational aggression is usually exerted by females.
• In what way could automatic cognitive processes lead to increased aggression?
• How do instinct theories explain aggression? What limitations do these theories generally have?
Instinct theories were proposed by Freud and Lorenz. Sigmund Freud argued for a “death instinct”
(thanatos) which he claimed we must direct at ourselves, at others, or else put to productive use. Konrad
Lorenz (among others) argued that aggression was favored by natural selection. They both agreed on the
fact that aggressive energy is instinctual i.e. innate and unlearned. The limitations for these theories were:
-6000 supposed instincts (too big of a list).
-Fails to account for the variation in aggressiveness, from person to person and culture to culture.
• What genetic, neuroanatomical, and physiological factors have been suggested to have links with
aggression? What evidence exists to support each of these linkages?
Aggressive and passive strains of mice, foxes, and other species have been created through
selective breeding by researchers. Evidence from human twin studies suggests that aggressive
tendencies are at least partially due to genetic heritability, but socialization seems to carry the
Researchers have found neural systems in both animals and humans that facilitate aggression. When the
scientists activate these areas in the brain, hostility increases; when they deactivate it hostility decreases.
Docile animals can thus be provoked into rage, and raging animals into submission. Abnormal brains can
contribute to abnormally aggressive behaviour.
Heightened serum testosterone is linked to increases in angry emotions and tendency to engage
in violent behavior
–Men tend to physically aggress more often than do women
–Female-to-male transsexuals often show increased aggression after beginning sex
–However, the opposite pathway (i.e., that our behavior alters levels of sex hormone
secretion) appears to be the stronger of the linkages
Low blood sugar levels correlate with aggression
Alcohol myopia theory of violence under intoxication. Alcohol myopia was proposed by Claude
Steel and he proposed that alcohol consumption narrow your focus of attention. That focus of
attention on particular individuals and how they behave drives the behaviour of the individual
who has consumed alcohol. Damage to amygdala (brain structure) is often associated with
inappropriate expressions of violence, aggression, and use of verbal expletives
• How does frustration-aggression theory explain aggression? What form(s) of aggression does it best
explain? How does the concept of deprivation relate to aggression in the context of this theory?
Frustration-aggression theory is the theory that frustration triggers a readiness to aggress. It best explains
the catharsis as the whole boiling up of emotions results in frustration which then results into an act of
aggression. The role of deprivation with theory fits in a more comparative role known as relative
deprivation. It is the perception that one is less well off than others to whom one compares oneself. An
example of that would be raising the pay of city cops and the frustration is seen among firefighters for not
receiving the increment in pay.
• What is displaced aggression? Give an example.
Displaced aggression occurs when the target shares some similarity to the instigator and does some minor
irritating act that unleashes the displaced aggression upon then. Example: If you are just angry about
relationship problems and your friend makes a silly joke about how you are stupid you vent your anger out
• What is “catharsis”? Does it actually reduce later aggressive acts? How is this finding explained?
Hydraulic theories (Freud and others) suggest unexpressed emotions build up “pressure”
Catharsis (from Greek katharsis, ‘purging’) is “blowing off steam” – directly (e.g., hitting a wall)
or indirectly (e.g., watching contact sports) – to relieve aggressive emotions. It involves a
substituted target for aggression. It does not actually reduce later aggressive acts for 3 main
(1) Acting aggressively may be rewarding (i.e., it makes us feel better or lets us get our way)
(2) It may create an aggressive habit (cycle of priming violence and behaving violently)
(3) We may start to blame the victim for being the target of our aggression
Point 3 shows the relation between cognitive dissonance and aggression.
This finding is explained by Hornberger (1959) and Bushman (2002).
•In Phase 1, participants were insulted by a confederate
•Half of the participants then pounded nails for 10 min (could be considered a cathartic
•The other half did not pound nails during this time
•In Phase 2, all participants then had the chance to criticize the person who had earlier
Contrary to catharsis theory, the participants who previously hammered nails were more
hostile toward the confederate in Phase 2
•Participants were angered by negative essay feedback
•Some participants then given opportunity to hit a punching bag as hard as for as long as
they would like
–Half were instructed to think about the person who previously angered them while
punching the bag (rumination group)
–Half were instructed to think about becoming physically fit while punching the
bag (distraction group)
•Other participants sat quietly for 2 min (control group)
•All participants then asked to rate how angry they currently felt, and given the chance to
administer loud noise blasts to the person who previously angered them
•Participants in the control group were the least angry and showed least aggressive
behavior toward the person who had previously angered them