What Are The Roots Of Aggression Psychology Essay

Baron has defined aggression as any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment. Huesmann says aggression is the intentional infliction of some form of harm on others-it is an all-too-common form of social behavior. It can be either verbal (ex. Hash wards) or physical (ex. Hitting). Also, aggression can be distinguished as direct and indirect. Direct aggression can come in the form of hitting, kicking, etc. An example for indirect aggression is, a teacher who is angry with her students may not directly scold them, but slam the door as she leaves. In addition, aggression can be divided as active and passive which refers to the idea that there is, or is no overt reaction.

What Are The Roots Of Aggression?

Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot

Premium Partner
From $18.00 per page
4,8 / 5
Writers Experience
Recommended Service
From $13.90 per page
4,6 / 5
Writers Experience
From $20.00 per page
4,5 / 5
Writers Experience
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team

Is aggression an innate tendency or an externally elicited behavior? This question has been argued among psychologists for over decades. Freud believed that aggression is an inherited and unavoidable human tendency. After witnessing the wholesale carnage of World War 1, he pessimistically concluded that human beings posses a powerful built-in tendency to harm others. This idea is not widely accepted by present-day psychologists. Most believe that aggression is elicited by a wide range of external events and stimuli. In other words, it is often “pulled” from without rather than “pushed” or driven from within. It is possible for us to show some of the factors that could influence aggression as follows.


High temperature

Increase aggression


Increase aggression when this is a strong (dominant) tendency; decreases aggression if audience disapproves of this behavior.

Exposure to aggressive models(others behaving aggressively)

Increases aggression

Heightened arousal

Increases aggression when arousal is interpreted as provocation or frustration


Increases aggression in large doses; reduces aggression in very small doses

Apologies, explanations for provocative actions

Reduce aggression if accepted as sincere

Humorous materials

Reduces aggression if they induce feelings of amusement

Signs of pain on part of victim

Increase aggression if aggressor is very angry; reduce aggression if anger is low

Type A behavior pattern

Increases aggression in many situations

Presence of weapons (not used in assault)

Increases aggression because of previous association with such behavior

(Baron, 1996, p.392)

Thus, we could say that many acts of aggression are triggered by the words or deeds of persons with whom the aggressor interacts, or by social conditions generally. Frustration-interference with goal-directed behavior can facilitate aggression, perhaps because of the negative feelings it generates; but one must understand that frustration is not the only or the strongest determinant of aggression. Direct provocations from others are important causes of aggression, especially when such actions appear to stem from malevolent intent. Exposure to media violence (in films etc.) can increase aggression on the part of the viewers.

Heightened arousal can increase aggression. However, the impact of arousal on aggression depends on the complex interplay between emotions and cognitions. Cognitions-for example, are interpretations of the motives behind others’ behavior- can strongly influence our emotional reactions to provocation. Similarly, strong emotions can interfere with are ability to formulate rational plans or to asses the likely results of our behavior-an effect known as cognitive deficit.

Sexual jealousy-perception of a threat to a romantic relationship from a rival for one’s partner often plays an important roll in aggression. Interestingly, recent research suggests that such reactions may often be stronger among women than men. Exposure to violent forms of pornography may also increase aggression, although growing evidence suggests such effects are due to violent content of such films or tapes rather than their explicit sexual content.

Theories of Aggression
Aggression as Instinct

Sigmund Freud suggested that all animals, including humans are born with potent aggressive instincts. These instincts create a drive to commit aggressive acts that must be satisfied. In other words, they create an uncomfortable pressure that must be released in some way. Often the aggressive instinct is released in an overt act of aggression. But the key to curbing violence, according to Freud, lies in finding nonviolent ways to release aggressive energy, such as competing in business or sports, watching aggressive sports, or reading about violent crimes.

The most controversial aspect of Freud’s theory is his belief that instinctual aggressive energy must be released in some way. He calls the process of releasing instinctual energy catharsis. Freud’s suggestion that societies should encourage the nonviolent catharsis of aggressive energy has been much debated. In particular, some psychologists believe that the ways that Freud and his followers have suggested as safe means of catharsis actually have the effect of increasing aggressions.

The belief that aggression is instinctive is popular among the general American public. Also, most contemporary scientific views of aggression in America agree that one contributing factor is a genetic-physiological capacity to aggress. But to accept an unknown and unknowable accumulation of unseeable and immeasurable energy as the basis for aggressive behavior is to use a mythology almost totally unsupported, and in fact largely disproved, by scientific evidence. For example, so called cathartic expression of pretended aggressive instinctual energy characteristically does not lead to reduced levels of overt aggression, as a “darning off” phenomenon would predict. In fact, the opposite is more likely to occur. Overt aggression usually leads to more, not less, overt aggression. The catharsis effect is one of many instances in which the instinct theory fails to accord with much-replicated scientific findings.

Speaking of the instinct theory, we can say that these theorists have probably done a major disservice to efforts at advancing society’s understanding and control of aggression. Their popularity may be viewed as a major diversion from the scientific study of aggression.

Aggression as Drive

As scientific interest in the purported instinctual basis of aggressive behavior waned, it was replaced by the concept of drive. For over two decades, American scientific efforts relative to aggression focused upon drive concepts.

The major work responsible for initiating this viewpoint, and for shaping much of the relevant research on aggression, was Frustration and aggression, by Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mower, and Sears (1939). Their hypothesis held that, (1) frustration always leads to some form of aggression, and (2) aggression always stems from frustration. For example, a child who takes a toy from another child may very well get a sock in the nose, or that a nation that frustrates another nation’s desire for oil or a sea port might become a target of war. People and nations who are frustrated react with anger and aggression. It is not surprising; therefore, that violence is more common among people who live in poverty, as they are chronically frustrated in their attempts to meet even the most basic human needs. But, it has to be noted that it is not only frustration that elicits violence-any aversive event too can increase the likelihood of violence, including physical pain and sultry summer temperatures.

Aggression as Social Learning

To Freud, people have a need to aggress that must be relived. According to the frustration-aggression hypothesis, people aggress only in response to frustrating or other adverse circumstances. What the social learning theorists like Albert Bandura believe is that people are aggressive only if they have learned that it is to their benefit to be aggressive.

Social learning theorists do not deny the fact that frustration can make us more likely to be angry and aggressive, but they state that we will act aggressively in reaction to frustration only if we have learned to do so. We must see others be successful by been aggressive, or we must win victories of our own through aggression before we would become aggressive people. Also, social learning theorists acknowledge that a given individual’s potential to behave aggressively probably stems from neurophysiological characteristics. Genetics, hormonal, central nerves system, and resultant physical characteristics of the individual, it is held, all influence one’s capacity or potential to aggress, as well as the likelihood that specific forms of aggression will, in fact be learned.

Social learning theorists directly conflict Freud on the topic on catharsis. Freudian psychologists believe that we must find cathartic outlets for our aggressive energy to keep it from emerging as actual aggression. They recommend such things as yelling when angry, hitting a punching bag, and vicariously experiencing aggression by reading or watching violence on television. Social learning theorists argue that these activities will not decrease violence but instead will increase it by teaching violence to the person.

The main concepts in the social learning theory can be shown as follows.


1. Neurophysiological



C.N.S. (e.g., hypothalamus,

Limbic system)

Physical characteristics

1. Aversive


Adverse reductions in reinforcement

Relative deprivation

Unjustified hardships

Verbal threats and insults

Physical assaults

1. Direct External Reinforcement

Tangible (material)

Social (status, approval)

Alleviation of averseness

Expression of injury

2. Observational Learning

Family influences (e.g., abuse)

Sub cultural influences (e.g., delinquency)

Symbolic modeling (e.g., television)

2. Modeling influences

Disinhibitory-reduced restraints


Emotional arousal

Stimulus-enhancing (antentional)

2. Vicarious Reinforcement

Observed reward (Receipt facilitation effect)

Observed punishment (Escape Disinhibitory effect)

3. Direct Experience


Reinforced practice

3. Incentives Inducements

Instrumental aggression

Anticipated consequences

4. Instructional Control

5. Delusional Control

6. Environmental Control Crowding

Ambient temperature


Physical environment

3. Neutralization of self- punishment

Moral justification

Palliative comparison

Euphemistic labeling

Displacement of responsibility

Diffusion of responsibility

Dehumanization of victims

Attribution of blame to victims

Misrepresentation of consequences

Graduated desensitization

(Cosini, 1994, p. 41)

Experiments on Aggression

Aggression has being studied by psychologists both in the laboratory level as well as in the field.

Laboratory Studies

Some of the most interesting research on children’s imitation of violence came from the laboratory of Albert Bandura. In one particularly significant set of experiments, an adult attacked a large, inflated clown doll (Bobo doll). One group of children watched the attack; some witnessed in person, others on television. Another group watched the adult engage in innocuous behaviors. Later, the children were allowed to play in the room where the doll was kept.

All the children who had seen the adult beat Bobo, either in person or on television, imitated the adult, giving Bobo a savage beating. The children who watched innocuous behaviors did not display aggression toward the doll. Also, the children’s aggressive behavior modeled on that of the adults.

Other research by Bandura and his colleagues has shown that viewing another person’s aggressive behavior has complex effects. For example, some children saw a film of a person being aggressive. The person was either rewarded or punished for being aggressive. Children who saw the person being rewarded were more aggressive, the ones who saw the person being punished subsequently made fewer attacks on the Bobo doll. When the experimenter later offered the children a reward for imitating the model, both groups started beating the doll. Thus, it is clear that all the children had learned the aggressive response.

Seldom do laboratory experiments dealing with complex issues provide such unambiguous results, and in this case such clear application to the issue of violence in the mass media.

Field Studies

Field studies have yielded less clear cut results than laboratory studies. One reason is that experiments that attempt to manipulate real-life situations are difficult to carry out.

Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, and Huesmann (1977) observed a correlation between boys’ viewing of violence and their later behavior. They repotted that the greater boys’ preference was for violent television at eight, the greater their aggressiveness was at the age of ten and later at age eighteen (No such relation was observed among girls). The authors concluded that there is a cause-and-effect relation between early viewing of television violence and later aggression, and several statistical analyses of the data lend some support to this conclusion. However, a correlation between two variables does not prove that one causes the other. It is possible that children who are violent at age eight (for whatever reason) prefer to watch violent programs on television. There preference may therefore be a symptom, rather than a cause, of their aggressiveness.

(Carson, 1984, p.550)

Apart from them, Feshbach and Singer (1971) carried out experiments to see the relationship between aggressiveness and viewing violent television programs and results came that children who watched violent programs tended to be slightly less aggressive than those who had watched nonviolent programs.

Biology of Aggression

There is good evidence from a variety of animals that many forms of aggressive behavior are species-typical responses. It is likely that some simple elements of attack are innately organized in the human brain; as almost every parent learns; young children will bite in response to frustration. However, most aggressive behaviors in humans are more complex, and those patterns are undoubtedly learned.

Experiments done by Flynn, Vanegas, Foote, and Edward in 1970 to study the neural mechanisms that arouse, inhibit, and organize aggressive behavior in cats’ brain showed that attack sequences are organized in the periaqueductal gray matter, and that hypothalamus plays a role in arousing or inhibiting these behaviors and also amygdala which lies deep in the temporal lobes is also believed to influence aggressive behavior.

Hormones and Aggression

It is possible that hormones play an activational role in human aggression. Androstenedione (AD), a hormone closely related to testosterone, is produced by the adrenal glands. Even after castration, then some male hormones are present. Perhaps a level of male hormone that is insufficient to stimulate male sex drive is still high enough to stimulate aggressiveness. There are a few reports that drugs that counteract the effects of male hormones (both testosterone and AD) seem to suppress aggressive behavior in men with records of criminal violence (Carson, 1984, p.558). However, there is not yet enough evidence to permit any definite conclusions.

Personal Causes of Aggression

Are some persons “primed” for aggression by their personal characteristics? Informal observations suggest that this is so. While some individuals rarely lose their tempers or engage in aggressive actions, others seem to be forever blowing their tops, often with serious consequences. What are these traits or characteristics that seem to play an important role in aggression?

Experiments done by Baron, Russell, and arms, 1985; Carves and Glass, 1978 gives evidence that persons showing Type A behavior pattern or in other wards, pattern consisting primarily of high levels of competitiveness, time urgency, and hostility are more aggressive in many situations than persons showing the Type B behavior pattern or the pattern consisting of the absence of characteristics associated with the Type A behavior pattern.

Results of many studies including the ones done by Dodge Coie in 1987 and in 1990 have shown that individuals who perceive hostile intent behind others’ actions, even when this does not really exist, are more aggressive than those who do not show this hostile attributional bias. Recent findings indicate that several traits related to aggression-for example, irritability and rumination (the tendency think about real or imagined provocations)-are closely related to the “Big Five” dimensions (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Openness to Experience) of personality. Specifically, aggression-related traits appear to be the dimensions of agreeableness and emotional stability.

When considering the gender difference, males are more aggressive than females. However, these differences occur primarily in situations where provocation is lacking; when provoked, males and females do not differ appreciably in level of aggression. In addition, while males tend to show higher levels of physical aggression than females, females demonstrate higher levels of indirect aggression than males. Both cultural as well as biological factors may be involved in these gender differences in aggression.


According to what we have seen so far about aggressive behavior, it is sound that we approach this case through all possible perspectives.

Thus, if we start off with the Freudian approach, it is possible for us to say that Siripala, like any other human has an innate tendency to be aggressive. Here, how ever I see that in his profession as a butcher, instead of his aggressive urges being drained off the desire for such behavior increases as he enjoys his job. This can be seen in his acts such as mistreating the little dog, beating his wife and the way he deals with his son.

Besides, we can see that frustration too may have being a reason for Siripala’s situation. That is because with the failing of Sathyapala’s O/L examination and he becoming a Devil Worshipper Siripala’s hopes regarding his only son may have collapsed. Thus, under this situation, his baseline of comfort is disrupted and it would naturally lead him toward frustration and aggression.

Then according to the social learning theorists, with every aggressive behavior of Siripala he learns and also becomes more and more aggressive. Apart from that, his son Sathyapala too develops and starts enjoying aggressive behavior patterns as a result of social learning process.

Also, when we consider Ranmenika’s way of reacting, what we could understand is that since she hides her feelings of anger and self pity, her husband takes advantage in using her as a scapegoat. In addition, another factor that increases Siripala’s aggressive behavior is alcohol. Because he is an alcoholic, he definitely must be consuming alcohol in large doses and we know that it is one factor that increase aggressive behaviors.

Apart from that, if we consider the fact which Helen brought-up, ‘that certain foods can induce aggressive behaviors’, what we could say is that according to our knowledge, we know that increasing of hormones such as testosterone and Androstenedione (AD) and also, neurotransmitters such as serotonin have being proved to induce aggressive behaviors. So, if certain foods such as red meat increases those endocrine secretions, then aggressive behavior patterns can be increased.

This way, what we could say is that aggressive behaviors such as Siripala’s and Sathyapala’s can be induced due to several social psychological factors and their behavior preferences can also be reflected and also increased by their favorite film and TV shows.

You Might Also Like

I'm Alejandro!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out