When Are People Aggressive

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When Are People Aggressive
Mean physical aggression scores
Chapter 14
Social Psychology
Figure 14.11 shows that these children grew up to be more aggressive than their samesex siblings who were not exposed to testosterone during prenatal development
(Reinisch, Ziemba-Davis, & Sanders, 1991).
Drugs that affect the central nervous system also affect the likelihood that a person
will act aggressively. Even relatively small amounts of alcohol, for example, can greatly
increase some people’s aggressiveness. Canadian researchers have found that in almost
70 percent of the acts of aggression they studied, the aggressors had been drinking alcohol. And the more alcohol the aggressors consumed, the more aggressive they were
(Wells, Graham, & West, 2000). No one knows exactly why alcohol increases aggression, but research suggests that the drug may affect areas of the brain that normally
inhibit aggressive responses (Lau, Pihl, & Peterson, 1995).
Participants exposed to high doses
of testosterone during prenatal
Unexposed participants
Testosterone and Aggression
In the study illustrated here, the children
of women who had taken testosterone
during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage
became more aggressive than the mothers’
other children of the same sex who had
not been exposed to testosterone during
prenatal development. This outcome appeared in both males and females.
Learning and Cultural Mechanisms Biological factors may increase or decrease
the likelihood of aggression, but cross-cultural research makes it clear that learning also
plays a role. Aggressive behavior is much more common in individualist than in collectivist cultures, for example (Oatley, 1993). Cultural differences in the expression of aggression appear to stem in part from differing cultural values (Cohen, 1998). For example,
the Utku (an Inuit culture) view aggression in any form as a sign of social incompetence.
In fact, the Utku word for “aggressive” also means “childish” (Oatley, 1993). The effects
of culture on aggression can also be seen in the fact that the amount of aggression in a
given culture changes over time as cultural values change (Matsumoto, 2000).
In addition, people learn many aggressive responses by watching others (Bingheimer,
Brennan, & Earls, 2005; Bushman & Anderson, 2001). Children, in particular, learn and
perform many of the aggressive responses that they see modeled by others. Bandura’s
“Bobo” doll experiments, which are described in the chapter on learning, provide
impressive demonstrations of the power of observational learning. The significance of
observational learning is highlighted, too, by studies described in that chapter on the
effects of televised violence. For example, the amount of violent content eight-year-olds
watch on television predicts aggressiveness in these children even fifteen years later
(Huesmann et al., 2003). Fortunately, not everyone who sees aggression becomes
aggressive. Individual differences in temperament, the modeling of nonaggressive
behavior by parents, and other factors can reduce the effects of violent television. Nevertheless, observational learning, including the learning that comes through exposure
to violent television and violent video and computer games, does play a significant role
in the development and display of aggressive behavior (Anderson & Murphy, 2003;
Bushman & Anderson, 2001).
Reward or punishment can also alter the frequency of aggressive acts. People become
more aggressive when rewarded for aggressiveness and less aggressive when punished
for aggression (Geen, 1998). In short, a person’s life experiences, including culturally
transmitted teachings, combine with daily rewards and punishments to influence
whether, when, and how aggressive acts occur (Baron & Richardson, 1994).
When Are People Aggressive?
In general, people are more likely to be aggressive when they are both physically aroused
and experiencing a strong emotion such as anger (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). People tend either to lash out at those who make them angry or to displace, or redirect,
their anger toward children, pets, or other defenseless targets. However, aggression can
also be made more likely by other forms of emotional arousal. One emotion that has
long been considered to be a major cause of aggression is frustration, which occurs
when we are prevented from reaching some goal.
Suppose that a friend interrupts your studying for
an exam by asking to borrow a book. If things have been going well that day and you
are feeling confident about the exam, you will probably be friendly and helpful. But
what if you are feeling frustrated because your friend’s visit was the fifth interruption
Frustration and Aggression
Learning to express aggression is especially easy for children who, like these
youngsters in Iraq, see aggressive acts
modeled for them all too often.
in the last hour? Under these emotional circumstances, you may react aggressively, perhaps snapping at your startled visitor for bothering you.
Your aggressiveness in this situation would be predicted by the frustrationaggression hypothesis, which suggests that frustration leads to aggression (Dollard
et al., 1939). Research on this hypothesis has shown that it is too simple and too general, however. For one thing, frustration sometimes produces depression and withdrawal, not aggression (Berkowitz, 1998). In addition, not all aggression is preceded by
frustration (Berkowitz, 1994).
After many years of research, Leonard Berkowitz suggested that the frustrationaggression hypothesis be modified in two ways. First, he proposed that it may be stress
in general, not just frustration, that is involved in aggression. Stress, he said, produces
a readiness for aggression that may or may not be translated into aggressive behavior
(Berkowitz, 1998). Once this readiness exists, however, aggression can be more easily
triggered by stimuli in the environment. The triggering stimuli might be guns or knives,
televised scenes of people arguing, violent song lyrics, or other cues associated with
aggression. In other words, neither stress alone nor environmental cues alone are
enough to set off aggression. When combined, however, they often do. Support for this
aspect of Berkowitz’s theory has been quite strong (Anderson & Bushman, 2002).
Second, Berkowitz argues that the direct cause of most kinds of aggression is negative feelings, or negative affect (Berkowitz, 1998). Research suggests that the more negative affect people experience, regardless of what caused it, the stronger is their readiness
to be aggressive. Participants in one study experienced negative affect caused by the pain
of immersing their hands in ice water. They became more aggressive than participants
in a control group whose hands were in water of room temperature (Berkowitz, 1998).
frustration-aggression hypothesis
proposition stating that frustration always leads to some form of aggressive
Generalized Arousal Imagine that you’ve just jogged three miles. You are hot,
sweaty, and out of breath, but you aren’t angry. Still, the physiological arousal caused by
jogging may increase the probability that you will become aggressive if, say, a passerby
shouts an insult (Zillmann, 1988). Why? The answer lies in a phenomenon described in
the chapter on motivation and emotion: Arousal from one experience may carry over
to a new situation, producing what is called excitation transfer. So the physiological
arousal caused by jogging may intensify your reaction to an insult (Harrison, 2003).
By itself, however, arousal does not lead to aggression. It is most likely to produce
aggression when a situation presents some reason, opportunity, or target for aggression
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