Chapter 11: Aggression and Violence
DEFINITION AND VARIETIES OF AGRESSION
Aggression: Any form of behaviour that is intended to injure someone physically or
Violence: Aggression that is intended to cause extreme injury (i.e. such as death).
o NOTE: Violence is always a form of aggression, but not all aggression is violence
because it is not always aimed at causing extreme injury (i.e. pushing someone).
There are several types of aggression.
Hostile and Instrumental Aggression
Hostile Aggression: Harm-doing that arises out of negative emotions such as anger,
frustration, or hatred (i.e. insults, pushes).
o This is often impulsive rather than planned, and the goal is to hurt the target.
Instrumental Aggression: Harm-doing that is motivated by goals other than hurting the
target, such as obtaining something of value.
o For example, A parent spanking a child for bad behaviour occurs for a different
reason than from a robber’s goal, which is to steal someone’s wallet.
NOTE: Aggressive behaviour can be caused by several factors simultaneously. Most acts
of aggression reflect some mixture of anger and a desire to achieve more distant goals.
Aggression can develop really early on in social life. At a pre-school age most boys tend
to exhibit physical aggression, girls tend to rely on relational aggression.
Relational Aggression: Behaviour that is intended to damage another person’s peer
relationship (i.e. rumors, social exclusion these can inflict psychological damage).
o One of the results of using social exclusion or spreading rumors about others is
the possibility that others will come to dislike you, this can even lead into
adulthood; university students that had done relational aggression were
associated with peer rejection and antisocial personality.
o However, popularity can also be sometimes associated with aggressive
behaviour. It seems that aggression can sometimes be “cool” and lead to
increased rather than decreased peer acceptance.
THEORIES OF AGGRESSION
General Aggression Model (GAM)
General Aggression Model (GAM): A broad theory that conceptualizes aggression as the
result of a chain of psychological processes, including situational events, aggressive
thoughts and feelings, and interpretations of the situation. o Note: There are individual differences as well; some people are more likely than
others to respond to situational events with aggressive thoughts and feelings
(i.e. they have an aggressive trait, or good fighting skills).
The aggressive thoughts, feelings, and arousal within the person increase the probability
of aggression, but the individual must first interpret the situation as one in which
aggression is appropriate (i.e. has been insulted, feels angry, etc.)
o Known as the Appraisal Process.
The GAM pulls together 5 rich theoretical traditions in the study of aggression:
o 1) Biological Influences on Aggression
o 2) Frustration and Aggression
o 3) Excitation Transfer
o 4) Social Learning Theory
o 5) Cognitive Neoassociation Model
1) Biological Influences on Aggression
o Hormones play an important role in aggressive behaviour in nonhuman animals.
o The role of hormones in human aggression is more controversial. The clearest
evidence with humans, relates to the possible role of the male sex hormone
testosterone. Testosterone levels correlate with aggressive behaviour (i.e. more
testosterone = more aggression)
This is a correlation NOT causation. Since, aggressive behaviour could
lead to increased testosterone levels. This is small but reliable relation
o Testosterone levels peak in males in their mid-20’s and then decline (relates to
changes in violent crime).
o Human tendency towards aggression could be innate and could have evolved
because it served a survival function in our evolutionary past.
o For example, a fight-or-flight response to threat presumably increased our
ancestors’ chances of surviving attacks from predators or competitors by
preparing our ancestors to engage in self-defensive aggression (or escape).
o However, this aggressive impulse can be consciously suppressed when
aggressive behaviour would be counterproductive.
o Animals and humans respond to pain with aggression
o Animals and humans respond to fear with either flight (if possible) or fight (if
2) Frustration and Aggression
Frustration occurs whenever an individual’s efforts to obtain a desired goal are
interfered with or otherwise blocked (i.e. feeling frustrated with a failing exam mark
when your goal was to pass the course).
Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis: The twin propositions that (1) frustration always
leads to some form of aggression, and (2) frustration is the only cause of aggression.
o But some researchers think anger could sometimes be tied in; Ex: insult(pg 426) Displaced Aggression
o Displaced Aggression: Harm-doing that is directed at someone or something
that was NOT the actual source of frustration.
For example, if you got in trouble by our boss for poor evaluation, you
may exhibit aggression against a subordinate or even against members
of your own family after you return home.
This person couldn’t have retaliated at work, and when they came
home, someone being annoying at the dinner table might unleash this
withheld aggression at them. This is known as triggered displaced
aggression. Relates with the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s
o This is not so well supported.
o Catharsis: The idea that aggressive behaviour releases people’s pent-up
frustration, and reduces the likelihood of subsequent aggression.
o This idea has not been so reliable in experiments; in fact, the opposite effect has
more often been obtained.
o That is, when people are provided an opportunity for aggression against a
source of frustration, it usually serves to heighten, rather than lessen,
One possibility this occurs is because that any aggression in a situation
makes subsequent aggression seem more appropriate: a norm is
established that aggression is permissible.
Another possibility is that the initial act of aggression leads people to
see themselves as aggressive, and this self-perception increases the
likelihood of subsequent aggressive responses.
3) Excitation Transfer
Begins with an assumption that aversive (strong dislike) arousal leads to aggression. This
relates to the frustration-aggression hypothesis; frustration is the state of producing
aversive and uncomfortable arousal.
If aversive arousal causes or heightens aggression, then the passage of time (cooling
off), listening to soothing music, or otherwise distracting oneself with pleasant things
may reduce aggression by reducing aversive arousal.
Things other than frustration or anger can also cause aggression, such as physiological
arousal (i.e. exercising, watching a sporting event, etc.)
Excitation Transfer: The idea that physiological arousal from sources other than
frustration or anger can be linked to anger-related thoughts and cognitions, thereby
One of the interesting things about the excitation transfer is that it can increase
aggressive behaviour even when people are no longer consciously aware of a state of
o For example: An arousing event (i.e. raucous sports game) may cause people to
respond to insults or other provocation with greater intensity of aggression,
even after they have left the arousing setting. 4) Social Learning Theory
Social Learning Theory: An approach proposing that humans learn many kinds of
responses, including aggressive ones, by observing others; observation shows people
BOTH how to perform a behaviour, and whether that behaviour will be rewarded or
o People often learn aggressive behaviour by observing others being rewarded (or
at least not being punished) for aggressive behaviour, and then imitate or model
o I.e. If children watched an adult fight a “bobo doll”, such as punching, kicking,
etc., the children were more likely to do the same act (imitate) after being
frustrated. Normally, kids would just play with the doll, but the adult influenced
them to be aggressive – without getting in trouble.
5) Cognitive Neoassociation Model
Over time, people pick up knowledge about aggression and aggressive behaviour, which
gets stored and organized in memory (i.e. store schemas). Once that schema becomes
activated in memory, it tends to bring to mind other schemas through a process of
Cognitive Neoassociation Model of Aggression: A theory of harm-doing proposing that
aversive events activate the schemas for fight-or-flight, which elicit the emotions of
anger and fear; whether people respond with aggression or escape depends on the
pattern of cues in the situation.
o The idea is that aggression results from a process of spreading activation. This
negative affect then simultaneously activates 2 schemas: fight and flight. Fight
associates with aggression or harm-doing; flight associates with escape or
avoidance. Through a process of spreading activation, these two schemas
further activate anger (fight) and fear (flight).
o Only the pattern of cues in the situation will predict if we choose the fight or
Guns, knives, aggressive song lyrics, violent movies, insulting phrases,
and hostile symbols all are types of cues associated with anger (fight).
These aggressive cues can increase aggressiveness.
o In experiment, participants issued greater shocks to a person when a gun was
present on the table. The participant thought or guessed that the guns were
supposed to make them seem aggressive.
Conclusion: GAM Again
The category of situational variables in the GAM encompasses elements of several
specific theories, including frustration (from the frustration-aggression hypothesis),
exercise (from excitation transfer), and aggression cues (fro cognitive neoassociation
model). These sources of arousal and cognition initiate a process that can lead to
The category of individual differences in the GAM is relatively distinct from the specific
theories we have covered (discussed in “influences on aggression”). The 3 categories of aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings, and physiological arousal in
the GAM capture elements of each specific theory.
The category of appraisal processes in GAM is probably most closely connected to the
cognitive neoassociation model of aggression when anger schemas are activated, the
response tendency to fight will guide behaviour. The excitation process also relates to
the appraisal process because it assumes that arousal from any source can be
(mis)interpreted as anger.
The final category of behavioural choice in the GAM encompasses elements of social
learning theory and the cognitive neoassociation model. Social learning theory
addresses how people learn aggressive responses, and the cognitive neoassociation
model sates that either fight or flight responses can occur depending on the strength of
the activation of anger VS. Fear schemas.
INFLUENCES ON AGGRESSION
The GAM includes a category of influences on aggression labeled individual differences.
Why are some people more aggressive? We mention 3 relevant dimensions here:
o 1) Narcissism
Narcissism: An excessive love for the self.
People who are high in narcissism have inflated views of their self-
worth, which are not connected to reality.
Narcissists tend to be defensive about criticism that threatens their high
ego; therefore, when criticized, narcissists often respond with hostility
and aggression – a response labeled threatened egotism. Thus, one
cause of individual differences in aggression is narcissism.
o 2) Trait Aggressiveness
Some people are more likely to respond to any provocation (something
that angers, or irritates) with aggression than are other individuals.
Trait Aggressiveness: A disposition that represents how likely
people are to respond to provocations with aggression.
This can be measured with the AQ.
Aggression Questionnaire (AQ): A scale that measure individual
differences in trait-aggressiveness.
It consists of 4 related dimensions: physical aggression, verbal
aggression, anger, and hostility.
People who score high on this scale are hypothesized to be
more aggressive. Scores on the AQ correlate with ratings of
participants’ aggressiveness obtained from acquaintances.
Also, people who score high on the AQ seemed to possess
relatively elaborate schemas of aggression. o 3) Executive Functioning
Effective social behaviour requires continual planning and monitoring.
For example: In order to work towards a goal, people must
decide a strategy to achieve the goal, assess their progress, and
if necessary, make changes to their initial plan. This is known as
Executive Functioning: Higher-order cognitive processing that organizes
and coordinates lower-level elements of behaviour such as planning and
monitoring progress towards a goal.
In other words, they represent attempts to organize and
coordinate several tasks simultaneously.
Executive Functioning is controlled by the frontal lobes of the
Several studies have found that poor performance on measures of
executive functioning is associated with more aggression in response to
provocation. People with poor executive functioning have difficulty
processing multiple pieces of information simultaneously; thus, they fail
to notice cues in the setting that typically inhibit aggression (i.e. cues
indicating that aggression will be punished)
Alcohol increases aggression; however, this effect is much stronger in men.
Why does alcohol intoxication increase aggression?