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Essay/Term paper: Why are individual aggressive?

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Psychology

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Aggression is difficult to define, it is a complex phenomenon, and depending
upon the context the term can be made to carry either positive or negative
connotations, it can be attacking behaviour that may be either
self-protective and self-assertive or to the infliction of injury toward
oneself or toward others, to the total destruction of others. Is aggression
biological determined or the product of learning and environmental
influences.? This essay, will consider instinctive theory, the frustration -
aggression hypothesis, and social learning theory. It should then be
possible to draw a conclusion to see if any or all of the theories discussed
are the cause of aggression. Brain disorders, hormonal and chemical
imbalances, environmental factors, such as heat, noise, air pollution and
overcrowding, although contribute to the causes of aggression will not be
discussed during the course of this essay. No universally adopted definition
of aggression exists, for the purpose of this discussion, the definition of
Gross will be used.

Gross defines aggression as :-
"The intentional infliction of some form of harm on others" (Gross page 444)

Freud proposed that aggression is an instinctive biological urge. According
to Freud this instinct, is made up of the libido (pleasure) and "Thanatos"
(the death wish) (pain). This basic instinct is present in the Id from
birth, at first the aggression is relatively uncontrolled, but with the
development of the Ego and superego it becomes channelled into socially
acceptable behaviour If these impulses are not released periodically in safe
ways, they soon reach dangerous levels capable of producing acts of
violence. Sometimes it is released in the form of physical or verbal abuse
against another, (where the anger is displaced onto another). Sometimes the
aggressive impulse is turned inward and produces self - punishment action,
even suicide. The best that can be hoped for, according to Freud, is that
aggressive impulses will be "channelled into socially acceptable forms."
such as football, sport etc. (Bernstein et al page 715). However, this
theory does not explain why some people are aggressive and others are not,
and if aggression is dissipated into sport, why is there football violence
and violence at other sporting events?

Lorenz, like Freud believed that aggressive energy builds up in the
individual, and eventually has to be discharged in some way. Lorenz's states
that aggression is the "fighting instinct" in man, and that man is naturally
aggressive. This instinct developed during the course of evolution because
it yielded many benefits, for example, fighting serves to disperse
populations over a wide area, ensuring maximum use of resources. "Such
behaviour often helps to strengthen genetic make-up of a species by assuring
that only the strongest individuals manage to reproduce", ( Baron/Byrne page
328) This fighting instinct is both present in man and animals, and that
aggression in animals is do with 'Ritualization and appeasement' and through
these rituals and series of appeasements animals avoid destroying each
other, but aggression in humans, is 'no longer under the control of rituals,
and it has become distorted in man" (Gross page 445). However nearly all the
evidence of Lorenz's theory comes from research with animals, and many
psychologist "doubt whether the results apply to humans, because in the
animal world instinct plays a more significant role than with humans". (
Berstein et al page 716). Further It is generally agreed by looking at
present day Eskimos, Pygmies, and Aborigines, that man is a 'hunter -
gatherer'. and that there is a powerful human tendency to cooperate which is
a legacy from our ancient hunting past, when we had to co-operate or starve.
People then lived in small tribal groups, were warfare did not exists, there
were no armies, and if conflict did occur, from time to time, casualties
would be avoided or limited. Mead argues that man is "not naturally
aggressive" and points out many societies, such as the Apraesh of New Guinea
where 'aggression is rare, and "peaceful coexistence and cooperation is the
norm" (Bernstein page 715) Megargee (1966) , supported the theories of Freud
and Lorenz, Megargee reported that studies of "people who commit brutal
aggressive crimes, are often over-controlled individuals, who repress the
anger and over a period of time the pressure to be aggressive builds up".
(Gross page 450). Support for instinct theory has also come from
Psychologist who study serial killers, they believe that there is genetic
pre-disposition to be aggressive, and combined together with other factors,
can aggravate a pre-disposition to violent aggressive behaviour. The
psychologist also pointed out, that more evidence for this theory comes from
studies of twins reared together or apart, which suggest that there may be a
genetic link to aggression in humans. (Channel 4 Television ).

Other psychologist emphasised frustration as a potent cause of why
individuals are aggressive. Dollard and Miller developed a "frustration -
aggressive hypothesis" they put forward the view that aggression was an
inevitable consequence of frustration. The 'occurrence of aggressive
behaviour always presupposes the existence of frustration and the existence
of frustration always leads to some form of aggression' If an individual is
prevented from reaching a goal, they are frustrated by not getting something
they want, or suffers "deprivation" where something they want is taken away
from them, they will experience an increase in aggression. (Hardy/Heyes page
171) This view has been criticized, psychologist point out that it does not
explain aggressive behaviour in all circumstances. Frustrated individuals do
not always respond with aggressive action, they may show "resignation and
despair" (Baron/Byrne page 329), and there are many occasions when
aggressive behaviour can be explained more by a breakdown in social norms.

Berkowitz suggested "external conditions, serve to arouse a strong motive to
engage in harm producing behaviour," (Baron/Byrne page 329) and that
frustration produces not aggression, but a "readiness to respond
aggressively". Once this readiness exists, cues in the environment, that are
associated with aggression, will often lead a frustrated person to behave
aggressively. "Cues such as guns, knives, violent television scenes. Neither
the frustration alone or the cues alone are sufficient to set off
aggression, but when combined however, they do." Berkowitz went on to say
that "unexpected failure at some task tends to create a more intense
negative reaction then a failure that is expected". Support for Berkowitz
theory is very strong. Studies have found that "frustration may facilitate
aggression. and experiments have supported this". (Berstein et al page 718)
On the other hand, several experiments have reported that frustration
sometimes may actually tend to reduce the level of aggression shown by the
individual. Existing evidence points to the conclusion that whether
frustration increases or fails to enhance aggression, depends on whether the
frustration is intense and whether the aggression is seen as 'just' or
'illegitimate'. However, few researchers currently hold the view that
"frustration always leads to aggression", frustration is simply one of many
different causes of aggression (Baron/Byrne page 329)

When you look at the frustration hypothesis, it seems that practically any
incident of aggression can be ascribed to frustration of acquisitiveness or
"assertiveness. Gentry 1970 said that "frustration does not always produce
aggression, sometimes it produces depression and withdrawal, and not all
aggression is preceded by frustration" ( Berstein et al page 718) According
to Leaky and Lewis (1977), "cultural influences are far more important
determinants of human aggression than biological factors." Any potential for
aggression that man has, is "culturally overridden and re-packaged into
behaviour which fits current circumstances. In most cases, cultural forces
teach or support non-aggression, but when pro-social aggression is necessary
(disciplining children, and wrong doers,) cultural process teach and sustain
it". (Gross page 446)

Bandura, Baron, and Zillmann argue that aggressive behaviour is a "learned
form of social behaviour, acquired and maintained" in much the same manner
as other forms of social activity. (Baron/Byrne page 362) Elicitors of
aggression such as personal insults, status threats, and the presence of
weapons are all learned sources of aggressive behaviour. Many responses are
learned by watching others, further, aggressive actions are often followed
by rewards and are therefore likely to be repeated. Bandura said that
children were capable of learning aggressive behaviour as a result of being
exposed to it, because children tend to imitate what they see. Bandura
exposed school children to a film of an adult behaving aggressively toward
an inflated doll, ( "Bobo Doll ") Following exposure the children tended to
imitate the aggressive behaviour. These finding, Bandura believed, showed
that young children learn to be aggressive against others, and that
aggressive acts would be imitated. In contrast, critics pointed out,
Bandura's experiments were too artificial, that the Bobo Doll was designed
specifically to be hit and that the children were aware of this, so maybe
they were just expressing the behaviour that was expected of them. Although
Bandura was has been criticized, his findings has led to considerable
research into the influence of violence in the mass media, especially
television, on promoting aggressive behaviour, and there is a growing body
of research evidence which indicates that watching violent television is
linked to increased tendencies towards subsequent aggression.

Support for the modelling and imitation theory comes from Patterson (1976)
who found that "aggressive behaviour is frequently reinforced in the home".
(Biechker/Hudson page 415) A young child who finds that anger and aggression
are more effective in gaining what they want and which can enable them to
control resources such as toys and parental attention, is having his
aggression reinforced. Further, "aggressive parents who discipline with
physical force act as models for their children and are likely to encourage
aggression in their children towards other people" (Hardy/Heyes page 163).
Children learn aggression by observing others behave aggressively, and this
is supported by a recent national survey by the N.C.H. Action For Children
which found that in families where there has been domestic violence,
children imitate the aggression they witness between their parents, and "33
per cent of children in homes where the father was violent, became
aggressive towards their mothers themselves". (The Guardian Newspaper).

To summarise, ethologists treat aggression as an evolutionary determined
instinct, which was necessary for survival. The frustration-aggression model
looks beyond the individual, seeing the tension as being triggered by
factors in the environment which prevent the individuals attempts to reach a
goal. Both the instinctive and the frustration -aggression models suggest
that it is something about the individuals psychological make-up which
causes aggression, and individual aggressive impulses are triggered by
personality dynamics, such as ego, need or frustration, and in which the
aggressive drives/impulses build up, and must be dissipated in some way. On
the other hand, Social learning theorist view aggressive acts as responses
learned through observations and imitation of others and by positive
reinforcement for the behaviour. Also, mans cultural heritage and his
experience of socialization, and the many traits or characteristics possed
by the individual is an important factor in determining his aggressive

In conclusion,, the reason as to why the individual is aggressive, has many
possible sources. It has been suggested that aggression springs from basic
drives. However, there is little evidence that supports the catharsis view,
that aggression depends on a build up of energy which must be released in
some way. On the other hand, there is a large body of research evidence that
supports the view that exposure to aggressive models can stimulate similar
behaviour among observers. People who behave aggressively act as aggressive
models, and through such action can influence others to act in a similar
manner. So it can be seen, that there are views that point towards a
pre-disposition towards aggression, while others would indicate either
frustration, or a learned form of behaviour as to the cause of aggression.
It is proposed, that it is more likely that an individual will be aggressive
if all of these criteria are met to some degree or other, however, the
greater emphasis should be placed upon learnt behaviour. It would seem
strange if we, unlike all other mammals, were not genetically equipped to
defend ourselves or our children when under attack, and it would be
surprising if we lacked the urge to assert ourselves to some degree in
competitive social situations. However, the claim that for man all is
learned and nothing is genetically inherited, gives the impression that
society can be moulded into any shape and a human being is merely a blank
canvas in which anything could be written upon.. In answer to the question,
why are individuals aggressive? It is clear that there is no single cause as
to why an individual is aggressive, many factors contribute to the
occurrence of aggression. and that aggressive behaviour has multiple,
interlinked causes.


Baron,RA, and Byrne, D, Social Psychology,

Bernstein, D.A., et al International Student Edition, Houghton Miffin
Company 1991, 3rd Edition

Biechler, RF, and Hudson, L.M, Developmental Psychology,
Longman Inc. 1972

Dobson, CB, et al, Understanding Psychology, Butler & Tanner Ltd 1993

Gregory,RL, The Oxford Companion to the Mind,
Oxford University Press 1987


Hardy, M, and Heyes, S, Beginning Psychology 3rd edition
Butler & Tanner 1987

Mussen, P, et al, Psychology An Introduction, Heath & Company 1973

Channel 4 Television , To Kill and Kill Again, A Scientific Analysis of
Serial Killers, January 4th 1995

The Guardian Newspaper, Violent Children, Tuesday January 24th 1995


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