Psychological Theories of Aggression

Discuss one or more social psychological theories of aggression.

This essay will discuss two social psychological theories of aggression, which are social learning theory and deindividuation. It will briefly explain what is, pro-social behaviour, anti-social behaviour, aggression and social psychology. Lastly it will evaluate the findings before concluding.

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Pro-social behaviours are those intended to help other people, it is a behaviour that is characterised by a concern about the rights, feelings and welfare of other people. Behaviours that can be described as pro-social include feeling empathy and concern for others and behaving in ways to help or benefit other people (Anon., 2015). Anti-social behaviour, is the behaviour defined by law as `crime`, but also extends to other activities that cause a nuisance to others, whether publicly or privately. Anti-social behaviour always leaves the victims feeling helpless, desperate and with a seriously reduced quality of life (Anon., 2015). Aggression is an example of anti-social behaviour. Aggression has been defined as any form of behaviour directed towards the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such harm. The term aggression refers to a range of behaviours that can result in both physical and psychological harm to oneself, other or objects in the environment. The expression of aggression can occur in a number of ways, including verbally, mentally and physically (Cherry, 2015).

Social psychology is about understanding individual behaviour in a social context. It also aims to explain aggression through different theories. Two theories include the social learning theory and deindividuation theory, these theories intend to explain why people are aggressive. Aggression as said above is a form of anti social behaviour, showing a lack of emotional concern for the welfare of others. It is a cultural, cognitive process as well as a biological response, affecting every human being. Furthermore, it appears in many forms; verbal, physical, symbolic or injurious with the environment. Social learning theory of aggression states that aggression is not innate; it is learned through the environment (Gross & Rolls, 2009, p. 136). According to Bandura he says humans are not born aggressive but acquire these behaviours through direct experience or by observing the actions of others. The theory suggests that for an individual to learn new behaviours this can only occur through direct experience (Gross, 2005, p. 425). Direct experience (which is based on operant conditioning) is where aggressive behaviour is reinforced and is therefore more likely to be reproduced. Bandura believes that humans are active information processors and think about the relationship between their behaviour and its consequences. Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned observationally (indirect) through modelling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. Bandura argued that individuals, most likely children, learn aggressive responses from observing others in different social influences for example their surroundings and the media. He also mentioned individuals believing aggression produces reinforcements (McLeod, 2011). On the other hand B.F Skinner proposed that learning occurs through reinforcement. Vicarious reinforcement occurs when an individual observes the consequences of aggressive behaviour as being rewarding, for instance a person achieving what they want through aggressive behaviour. However Bandura went on to suggest that for social learning to take place, the child had to form mental representations of certain events from their social environment to see possible rewards or punishments for aggressive behaviour, alongside observational learning. The “Bobo doll” studies by Bandura, demonstrated how children learn and imitate aggressive behaviours they have witnessed in other people.

Observational learning, also known as modelling consists of four phases, according to Bandura he says it is influenced by the observer’s behaviour. The first stage is where the individual pays attention and perceives the most important aspects of the models behaviour by observation. Therefore a child would need to attend to the role model`s actions or saying. For example, children exposed to aggressive behaviour within the home and by watching the consequences, slowly associate such behaviour as effective conduct. Therefore children learn aggressive responses largely through observational. Consequently, it is more likely to imitate behaviour modelled by people of the same sex (McLeod, 2011).

Second stage is the coding of this behaviour into memory, known as retention, for the information to be retrievable when an appropriate situation arises. This is where mental representation form, including events from the individual`s social environment. The child must be able to differentiate possible rewards or punishments expected in future outcomes, which is fundamental in observational learning. In the Bobo doll experiment, the children aggressively beat the doll because this information was stored in their memory. 24 children (12 boys & 12 girls) watched a male and female model behaving aggressively towards a toy, another 24 (12 boys &12 girls) children were exposed to a non-aggressive model who played in a quiet and subdued manner and the final 24 (12 boys &12 girls) were used as control group and not exposed to any model at all. It shows that all the children were subject to `mild aggression arousal`. Children who observed the aggressive model made far more imitative aggressive responses than those who were in the non-aggressive or control groups. The girls in the aggressive model condition also showed more physical aggressive responses if the model was male but more verbal aggressive responses if the model was female. However, the exception to this general pattern was the observation of how often they punched Bobo doll, and in this case the effects of gender were reversed, because normally female are more aggressive verbally and male more aggressive physically (McLeod, 2011).

Third stage is rehearsing this acquired modelling behaviour, in conjunction with possessing the physical capabilities of behaviour observed. For instance if a child gain rewards or appraisal, for their aggressive behaviour, they are more likely to repeat that same behaviour regularly. This is direct reinforcement and allows for the improvement of the behaviour. Identification with the model occurs, and involves adopting observed behaviours, values, beliefs and attitudes of the model with whom you are identifying with. Identification is different to imitation as it may involve a number of behaviours being adopted whereas imitation usually involves copying single behaviour (McLeod, 2011).

Furthermore individuals are more likely to repeat a modelled behaviour if the model is a role model or similar to them. Role models include parents within the family, characters on TV friends within their peer group and teachers at school. These models provide examples of behaviour to observe and imitate. Bandura argues that members of family are most influential in reinforcing aggressive behaviour in children, as they are more likely to imitate them when they are older. The final stage involves the individual being encouraged to successfully repeat and reinforce this modelling behaviour with the expectation of receiving rewards. The individual will gradually gain confidence in their will to carry out aggressive behaviours, thus self-efficacy expectancies are developed (McLeod, 2011). He also argues that children learn social behaviour such as aggression through the process of observation learning – through watching the behaviour of another person.

Deindividuation is when people lose their sense of individual identity. It also refers to the loss of a sense of personality identity that can occur when we are for example in a large group. It also refer to the anonymity a person can feel for example, in crowd situations such as football games ( soccer hooligans) and when their identity is hidden with costume or uniform. We then become more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour. Leon Festinger defined deindividuation as: “…a state of affairs in a group where members do not pay attention to other individuals qua individuals and, correspondingly, the members do not feel they are being singled out by others”. He believed that when we become deindividuated, we merge our identities with that of the group and become anonymous; this allows us to lose our inhibitions. As a result of being unidentifiable in a large group, this has the outcome of reducing individuals` inner restraints, and increasing deviant behaviour that is normally avoided (Gross & Rolls, 2009, p. 140). An explanation of aggressive behaviour could be offered by the theory that a person who feels anonymous may therefore feel less inhibited by social norms, therefore increasing the likelihood of aggressive behaviour occurring (Gross, 2005, p. 430).

Most individuals would normally refrain from aggression because they don’t want to be held to blame for their actions- but such as crowds, social restraints and personal responsibility are perceived to be lessened, so displays of aggressive behaviour occur. The causes of deindividuation were extended from anonymity in groups to other factors, such as reduction of responsibility, arousal and altered consciousness influenced by drugs or alcohol. Zimbrado conducted a study to demonstrate the effects of deindividuation on aggression. Group 1 participants wore white lab coats and hoods, and set in a vaguely lit room; increasing anonymity (they were therefore deindividuated). Group 2 participants those who were in control of the group they wore normal clothes, nametags and were set in bright room, making them easily identifiable. Group 2 participants` task was to shock a confederate and the findings as suggested but anonymous group 1 participants shocked longer and therefore more painfully than identifiable participants did. The study argues that deindividuation or anonymity played an enormous role, because when one is appearing as anonymous, they more likely to act in an aggressive way than they would if their identity is easily identified (McLeod, 2008) . The deindividuated participants gave more shocks, supporting the deindividuation. Zimbardo concluded that deindividuation increased aggression, making it indiscriminate and not all influenced by individual characteristics.

The Zimbardo- Stanford prison experiment can illustrate the effect of deindividuation, through observing the behaviour of guards in uniform. It illustrate how college students assigned to act out the role of guards in a mock prison, they behaved very aggressively in the cruelty they showed towards those students assigned to the role of prisoners. This was largely due to the guards wearing dark glasses, to make eye contact with prisoners impossible, thus rendering them anonymous. Researchers argue that deindividuation settings do not account for a loss of self-identity. Instead, they alter anyone from an individual identity to a collective identity as a member of the group (Anon., 2007). Deindividuation causes people to unquestioningly follow group norms instead of personal norms, which sometimes leads individual to display aggressive behaviour. Deindividuation in crowd can lead to increased pro-social behaviour for example religious gatherings. Another study on deindividuation was done by Diener et al (1976), she observed that 1300 trick-or-treating children on Halloween were some wore large costumes and masks. The study shows that those children who remained anonymous were more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour, such as stealing money when they were briefly left alone and stealing candy or sweets (Gross, 2005, p. 430).

Evaluating, aggression is difficult to define as well as investigate as not one theory can be used to explain fully, even though it affects our every day-to-day life, either personally or through observation. Social learning theory is evident in both children and adults. People learn about behaviour differently along with the circumstances in which they are appropriate, and so these differences should be a result of social learning. Social learning theory emphasis on individuals, especially children, imitating observed behaviour from watching others individually, the environment, and the media. Deindividuation theory does not clearly state whether deindividuation occurs amongst young children as well. Instead, it focuses mainly on adults. There is minimum support for the deindividuation theory, because the analysis of crowd is too simplified. Collective behaviour is irrational; the individual in the crowd loses cognitive control. Researcher argues that deindividuation settings do not account for loss of self-identity. Instead, they alter a person from individual identity to a collective identity as a member of the group.

In conclusion social learning theory has shown to convincingly point up that the acquisition and behavioural expression of aggression is socially influenced. Taking from Bandura social learning theory give central place to observational learning and modelling. Deindividuation suggests that anonymity increases the possibility of an individual conforming to the social group norms, but they are not all social groups which will be aggressive for instance religious groups, they are mainly form of pro-social behaviour of which other groups such as soccer hooligans will be mostly form of anti-social behaviour.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anon., 2007. BBC Radio 4 Mind Changer. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b008crhv [Accessed 28 March 2015].

Anon., 2015. About Education. [Online] Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/pindex/g/prosocial-behaviour.htm [Accessed 26 March 2015].

Anon., 2015. Metropolitain Police. [Online] Available at: http://content.met.police.uk/Article/What-is-antisocial-behaviour/15000222084553/1400022084553 [Accessed 2 April 2015].

Cherry, K., 2015. What is aggression?. [Online] Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/aindex/g/aggression.htm [Accessed 1 April 2015].

Gross, R., 2005. Psychology. 4th ed. London: Hodder&Stoughton.

Gross, R. & Rolls, G., 2009. AQA(A) Psychology for A2. London: Hodder Education.

McLeod, S., 2008. Zimbardo-Stanford Prison Experiment. [Online] Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/zimbardo.html [Accessed 31 March 2015].

McLeod, S., 2011. Bobo Doll Experiment. [Online] Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html [Accessed 30 March 2015].

McLeod, S., 2011. Social Learning Theory. [Online] Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html [Accessed 27 March 2015].

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