Discuss one or more social psychological theories of aggression

Social psychology attempts to explain aggression through several different theories. Two theories include the theory of effects of deindividuation and the theory looking at the effects environmental stressors can have on aggressive behaviour. Deindividuation refers to the anonymity a person can feel for example, in crowd situations such as football games and when their identity is hidden with a mask, costume, or uniform. 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.

Zimbardo’s (1973) classic prison study can illustrate the effects of deindividuation through observing the behaviour of the guards in uniform; but this does not explain the non-aggressive behaviour of the prisoners who were also deindividuated. The theory of deindividuation is a good means of explaining why in some situations, feeling more anonymous can increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour occurring; however, there is a major flaw in this theory.

It does not offer an explanation of why an increased level of deindividuation can also lead to a higher likelihood of pro-social behaviour, e. g. a nurse conforming to the behaviours associated with their role and uniform. Another possible explanation of the causes of aggression could be that environmental stressors such as noise and temperature can trigger aggressive behaviour. Baron and Ransberger (1978) analysed collected reports of group violence in America along with corresponding weather reports.

Baron and Ransberger linked collective violence in the US and high levels of temperature up to a point. When it becomes very hot, Baron and Ransberger concluded, people become lethargic. Glass et al. (1969) found that random noise has a ‘psychic’ cost because it required attention, whereas constant noise can be ‘tuned out’. In this experiment, noise led to frustration. Links are often made between severe overcrowding, which leads to psychological ‘crowding’, and aggression.

For example, Calhoun (1962) found that even though the rats were well looked after, a steady increase in the numbers of rats in the enclosure could be linked with the dramatic increase in aggression. These findings are possibly the effects of the overcrowding of the enclosure. This study lacks ecological validity. It is also important to be careful not to generalise the behaviour of the rats to all species, especially humans. Freedman (1973) suggests the arousal of the senses due to a crowd environment can improve your mood.

A person in a good mood therefore would be less likely to behave aggressively. The main flaw with this idea is that crowds are believed to be associated not just with aggression, but with pro- social behaviour and happiness too. Laboratory tests often support the notion that environmental stressors are associated and linked with aggression, yet data from outside the laboratory does not. It is not known why this is so. This theory often lacks external validity; however, the lab experiments can imply several changes that could be applied to real-life situations, such as the office.

Employers could make the workplace more pleasant by decreasing the levels of noise, improving conditions where overcrowding would otherwise be apparent, and adjust the temperature to a more suitable, comfortable level. These changes might increase efficiency and possibly decrease the amount of aggressive behaviour (be it verbal or physical) amongst employees. This would perhaps be a worthwhile area for future study. It is not clear whether deindividuation or the effects of environmental stressors offer the better explanation of aggression.

It is probable that a combination of these social psychological theories, and possible ones not mentioned here (e. g. social constructionism, frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory, etc. ) would provide the best possible explanation. Deindividuation can explain aggression sometimes, however, does not explain why deindividuation often causes an increase in pro-social behaviour, instead of the opposite. Environmental stressors seem to have some effect in aggression, but data from real-life situations does not consistently support this theory.

In any case, both theories suggest possible applications to the real world and potential future studies. Further study into a prison situation, but with prison guards who lack the anonymity caused by deindividuation could help determine whether improvements could be made in the correctional system. There is also a move towards a more ’employee-friendly’ workplace in order to decrease stress for employees and increase their efficiency and health. This may be partly due to the psychological research in the area.

Social Learning Theory (SLT) emphasises the importance of observing behaviours and modelling ourselves on these behaviours. The theory suggests that we learn to become aggressive by observing, this is controlled by environmental influences. Bandura (1961) conduced a study on a …

One theory of aggression is deindividuation. Deindividuation refers to when individuals lose their sense of individuality and behave in an anti-social or primitive way. Zimbardo identified a difference between individual (conforming to acceptable social standards) and deindividuated (not conforming to …

Abu Ghraib prison, set in Iraq was led by American soldiers in 2003 which saw inhumane and violent treatment of the prisoners there. The torture took place in physical, psychological and sexual forms as well as rape, sodomy and homicide …

On environmental stressor on aggression is temperature. It has been found that high temperature causes an increase in a person’s level of arousal. High temperature can make a person agitated or irritable, thus when they encounter a situation that causes …

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