Why Are Individuals Aggressive?

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