Chapter 9 Aggression and Antisocial Conduct
WHAT IS AGGRESSION?
Aggression as an Instinct
- Thanatos (or death instinct) was Freuds name for inborn, self destructive instincts, which were
said to characterize all human beings.
- Freud had a hydraulic view of aggression: Hostile aggressive energy would build up to a critical
level and then be discharged through some form of violent, destructive behaviour.
- Konrad Lorenz (an ethologist) described aggression as a fighting instinct triggered by certain
eliciting cues in the environment.
- Robert Ardrey, wrote in African Genesis, implied that human beings are a predator whose
natural instinct is to kill with a weapon
- Both psychoanalytic and ethological perspectives maintain that aggressive, antisocial conduct
results from an inborn propensity for violence
Behavioural and Intentional Definitions of Aggression
- Many behavioural learning theorists have rejected an instinctual explanation for violent and
destructive acts, instead view human aggression and antisocial conduct as a particular category
of goal- driven behaviours.
- Arnold Buss characterized an aggressive act as a response that delivers noxious stimuli to
another organism this definition emphasizes the consequences of the action that the
intentions of the actor.
- Behavioural definition of aggression- any action that delivers noxious stimuli to another
- Buss says that any act that deliver pain or discomfort to another living organism has to be
considered aggressive. However, is your clumsy dance partner who steps on your toes while
dancing causing pain considered aggressive? The same goes for a sniper who misses his target. Is
he any less aggressive just because no harm has been done?
- Intentional Definition of Aggression- any action intended to harm or injure another living being,
who is motivated to avoid such treatment.
o Classified as aggressive all acts in which harm is intended but not done
- Aggressive acts are often divided into 2 categories
o Hostile Aggression- aggressive acts for which the perpetrators major goal is to harm or
injure a victim (either physically, psychologically, or by harming ones property)
o Instrumental Aggression- aggressive acts for which the perpetrators major goal is to
gain access to objects, space, or privileges. (example; knocking over another person in
attempts to gain another persons toy)
- Distinction between hostile and instrumental aggression is sometimes difficult as situations can
be defined by both categories, however the distinction is important because developmentalists
have found that 2 kinds of aggression emerge at different times, and can have different developmental antecedents, as well as very different implications for ones future personal and
Aggression as a Social Judgement
- Aggression is really a social label that we apply to various acts, guided by our judgements about
the meaning of those acts to us.
- Our interpretation of an act as aggressive or otherwise will depend on a variety of social,
personal, and situational factors such as our own beliefs about aggression (this can vary due to
gender, culture, social status and past experiences)
THEORIES OF AGGRESSION
- Freuds Psychoanalytic Theory- believed that humans born with Thanatos (death instinct)
- Energy coming from food is continually converted to aggressive energy and these aggressive
urges must be dispelled occasionally so that they do not accumulate to a dangerous level.
o Freud believed that aggressive energy can be expelled in a socially acceptable way (ex.
work, play, and maybe in not so acceptable way as in insulting another or fighting.
- Freudian notion is that aggressive urges are occasionally directed inward resulting in some form
of self punishment, self-mutilation, and suicide.
- Contemporary psychoanalytic theorists continue to think of aggression as an instinctual drive
but reject Freuds notion that we harbour a self directed death instinct.
- Aggressive drives are viewed to be adaptive; they help individuals to satisfy basic needs and
therefore promote life rather than self-destruction.
- Study conducted by Condry and Ross (1985) to see how adults perceive roughhousing among
boys versus girls.
- Participants rated behaviour of the target child by either (1) the amount of aggression the target
displayed toward the recipient and (2) the extent to which the targets behaviour was merely
active, playful, and affectionate.
o When both target and recipients were boys the roughhousing behaviour was seen as a
display of affection.
o When boys roughhousing with girls was interpreted as aggressive behaviour.
o When target was a girl they were viewed as displaying highly aggressive behaviour
regardless if the recipient was a boy or a girl.
Lorenzs Ethological Theory of Aggression
- Argues that humans and animals have a basic fighting or aggressive instinct that is directed
against members of the same species. - Views aggression as a hydraulic system that generates its own energy. Aggressive urges continue
to build until relieved by an appropriate releasing stimulus.
- Lorenzs theory says that all instincts serve a basic evolutionary purpose which is to ensure the
survival of the individual and the species.
- From an ethological perspective, aggression can help most species survive because they have
evolved various instinctual inhibitions that prevent them from killing members of their own
kind. Fish for example engage in threat displays ritualized aggressive ceremonies in which one
of the participants will win without seriously injuring an adversary.
- According to this theory human beings kill other humans because their aggressive instinct is
poorly controlled and because homo-sapiens in prehistoric times lacked the innate equipment
to kill. There was little need for the evolution of instinctual inhibitions against maiming or killing
other human beings. Therefore humans lack of aggressive inhibitions together with recent
development of weapons presents a crucial challenge to humanity.
A Critique of Instinct Theories
- To date there isnt any neurophysiological evidence that the body generates aggressive energy.
- Our capacity for empathy and the sympathetic emotions it may foster it itself is a product of
human evolution and is a powerful inhibitor of aggression
- Empathy the ability to experience vicariously the same emotions that someone else is
- Dominance hierarchies minimize aggression. They minimize fighting and promote social
- An individuals aggressive inclinations are often affected by social experiences.
- Frustration/ aggression hypothesis- early learning theory of aggression, holding that frustration
triggers aggression and that all aggressive acts can be traced to frustrations
o This has to basic propositions (1) Frustration always produces some form of aggression
(2) Aggression is always caused by some form of frustration
o The trouble of this theory is that frustration does not necessarily result in aggression.
Berkowitzs Revised Frustration/ Aggression Hypothesis
- Frustration merely makes us angry and creates only a readiness for aggressive acts
- It is argues that aggressive responses will not occur, even given ones readiness to aggress,
unless there is some aggressive cue present in the situation
- Aggressive cues must be present before an angry person will behave aggressively depending on
how extreme a persons anger is.
- Aggressive Cues Hypothesis is Berkowitzs notion that the presence of stimuli previously
associated with aggression can evoke aggressive responses from an angry individual.