Theories of Aggression


Aggression, when used as a noun, usually conveys a form of behaviour which may be verbally threatening of physically harmful to others. There are distinctions to be made however, as the intentions behind aggressive behaviour can differ greatly. Instrumental aggresson, for example, is not always conducted in anger or with the intention of harming, self defence would come under this catagory. Hostile aggression on the other hand, is a behaviour which is carried out in anger and with the intention of damaging or hurting other people or property. It is often easy to recognise aggressive behaviour when we witness it, but defining the reasons why, are often alot more difficult to understand.


Lorenz (1966) saw aggression as an instinct, with aggression needng to be realeased frequently, so as not to build up to high levels. This would suggest that humans are naturally highly aggressive and that aggression is biologically determined. Frued (1920) also said that humans are born with an instinct to aggress and destroy. He said that aggressive energy could be released through activities such as competetive sports, exploration and watching others behave aggressively. These experiences, called \'cathartic\', are meant to rid the body of aggression. However research has shown, that watching others behave aggressively, can actually increase aggression levels.


The social learning theory of aggression states that people learn by observing and modelling the behaviour of others. Children learn how to behave by watching adults and their peers. Anyone who is seen as more powerful can cast an influence on others. When a child is punished by a parent, either verbally or physically, they learn that using that form of aggression can influence others into doing what you want them to do. Children learn from their parents how to behave, if a parent is aggressive in their behaviour, then a child they are rearing is likely to behave in the same manner. A child watching a cartoon in which a character is seen to have to have power over others, is more likely to copy that particular characters behaviours, rather than those of a character who is depicted as weak. Children are also likely to imitate the actions of a person or character who is seen to have the respect or admiration of others, this is reinforcement in the eyes of a child.


Bandura (1965) studied the effect on children, when they observed an adult behaving aggressively. The children were given access to a large inflatable doll called a Bobo doll, after they had observed an adult assaulting it. Bandura found that the boys showed more aggression than the girls did, but when they were asked to repeat as many actions as they could remember, both sexes responded equally. Children who had observed the adult being rewarded after assaulting the doll, were even more likely to repeat the actions they had seen. By using the principles of operent conditioning, If aggressive behaviour is reinforced, then it is likely to be imitated by others. The basic finding in Bandura\'s work was that young children can acquire new aggressive responses, merely through exposure to a televised model. According to Baron (1977), if children could learn new ways to harm others, and be encouraged to do so, through experiences like the \'Bobo doll experiments\', then the implication was that media portrayal of violence could be somewhat contributing to increased levels of violence in society.


Parke, et al (1977) studied groups of male juvenile delinquents living in low security institutions. Their nomal rate of aggression was assessed, both physical and verbal, and then one group were exposed to five commercial films with a violent content, for a period of one week. Another group were exposed to five non-violent films during the same period. The former group showed a significant increase in aggressive behaviour, even more so in the boys who were naturally highly aggressive.


The frustration - aggression hypothesis was proposed by Dollard, et al (1939). According to this, "aggression is always a consequence of frustration and contrariwise, the existence of frustration always leads to so some form of aggression". Although agreeing with Frued that aggression is an innate response, it was argued that aggression would only be triggered in situations that were frustrating to the individual. This theory was revised by Miller