Aggression is an action which involves hurting others on purpose and Aronson et Al (1997) says, “Aggression must mean to harm somebody. The harm can be physical-intending to cause bodily harm or psychological-intending to cause physical pain.” Psychologists have identified different forms of aggression, these being person-oriented aggression, which is designed to hurt some-one else and so causing harm is the main goal. In contrast to that there is instrumental aggression which as its main goal is obtaining some sort of a desired reward.
There’s also proactive aggression which is instructed by the entity to achieve some of their most desired outcome and there’s reactive aggression which is an entity’s reaction to someone else’s aggression. There are many theories in psychology which consider the cause of aggression. Two social-psychological theories that have considered this are the frustration-aggression hypothesis and the social learning theory.
Frustration-aggression behaviour is mainly prompted by frustrating situations. This is supported by Dollard et al (1939) which asserted that when frustration occurs; the outcome is always aggressive, therefore suggesting some very close links between the two. This frustration can also be an unpleasant sensation caused by unfilled desire. E.g. maybe not satisfying out goals or unfulfilling our desire! According to the frustration-aggression hypothesis, if an individual, for example, is thwarted on the way to the goal, the resulting frustration will increase the probability of an aggressive response.
Support for this idea come from a study by Barker et al (1941). Here young children became frustrated when was shown a room full of attractive toys which were kept out of reach. After a lengthy period of time, the children were finally allowed to play with the toys and it was here that they behaved extremely destructive, tending to smash, throw and stand on the toys rather than play happily now that they finally have the toys. This was the case when compared to a non-frustrated group and therefore being an important distinction between frustration and deprivation. The study by Barker et Al (1941) also shows that the children without toys do not necessarily aggress but it was those children who expected to play with the toys who experienced frustration when thwarted.
This principle operates on a societal level as the most serious riots do not occur in the areas of greatest poverty, but in areas where, for a minority group, things are bad compared to the majority. It is this relative deprivation that introduces socio-economic factors to aggression. The frustration-aggression hypothesis was also studied by Doob and Sears (1939) who created several situations for people to undergo to record their response and see if the feeling of being frustrated resulted in an act of aggression. One of these situations involved people waiting for a bus of which went past without even stopping. Majority of the people reported that they would feel angry in each of the situations shown. This however does not entirely support the hypothesis as anger does not always turn into aggression.
Another psychologist that linked their study to this hypothesis was Freud. He believed that we were born with instincts, a life instinct-everything to do with survival, (getting up in the morning, living life, having sex, procreating) and thantos. However he believed that these instincts need a catharsis, an outlet for the frustration – therefore being aggression. Looking at the frustration-aggression hypothesis it makes sense when applied to everyday life. This is due to aggression needing to have some ‘set off’. For example, to have a fire-there must be smoke.
However aggression does not always stem from frustration-smoke does not always carry on being fire, smoke can get put out. In other words we learn inhibitition. However frustrated we may get-in life, we are faced with situations where we can’t always outlet these feelings with aggression and we have to subdue them and learn to keep them subdued. Also not everyone aggresses when there frustrated. Some people keep the aggression internal and it soon becomes depression. Many factors can induce aggression in a person suffering little frustration, or inhibit an aggressive response in a person frustrated. These factors are the produce of social learning. This is one of the most influential theories of aggression and is put forward by Albert Bandura.
One of his most famous studies that explained social learning is his research of children and the bobo doll. Here children watched an adult kicking and punching a bobo doll and also hitting the doll with a hammer. The children then waited ten minutes and were moved to another room where there were a lot of toys. In between the toys were a hammer and a bobo doll, however before reaching the room they were purposely made to feel frustrated by having to walk some distance before entering the room.
Watching the children play in the room Bandura had placed them in, he found that the children were behaving aggressively, as the adult had done towards the bobo doll and some of the children, in this aggression, used the hammer to show it. This type of behaviour is called observational learning. It is here where you watch the behaviour of others and model it. For Example, a young child watch’s his elder brother consistently bully another person. He young child therefore, not knowing better, models his brother and eventually begins to bully too-their behaviour becomes the same.
Albert Bandura therefore says: “We are not born aggressive, We learn to be!” The essence of the social learning theory that Bandura put forward is that new behaviours are learnt indirectly as well as by direct experience. The indirect learning is what I’ve described before about the child who models his brother-observational learning, however there’s the direct learning which is done by operant conditioning, which is where we can be rewarded by reinforcements. An example of this is bullying in school and getting away with it. Because you do get away with it, you therefore carry on and once you’ve learnt to be aggressive, it is easier to continue with this behaviour then to try and contain it.
But why is this behaviour of acting so aggressive so easy to imitate?! If the aggressive model is very similar to them, e.g. age group or gender group, it’s very easy to watch them and begin to believe that that’s the way to act. The same principle applies if the model is higher up in the social circle. For example, a rock star, an actor or maybe some one elder and admirable at school. Because these people have desirable characteristics which are therefore admired, your behaviour begins to change in an effort to make yourself like them-more admirable.
On the contrary, such aggressive behaviour can be due to low self esteem or being maybe too dependant on others and even adults, in some cases, showing approval of aggression. An example of this is David Young, A troubled youth we looked at in one of our lessons whose father approved of his behaviour. There’s also always the basic norm that aggression stems from the home and the parents and that if from early childhood it is ‘nipped in the bud’ then that can therefore stop the progress of such behaviour.
Another is aggression in video games. A number of studies have examined the differences in children’s behaviour after playing an aggressive video game. For example, Cooper and Mackie (1986) observed the free play of 9 and 10 year old children after they had played aggressive video games and found that aggressive behaviour had increased, however only in the girls and not the boys. The social learning approach created by Bandura is a very important one. It is in this that we establish in many different ways how aggression can be formed, e.g., modelling behaviour/observational learning and how it’s brought about by other factors such as television and computer games.
Although Bandura’s social learning theory is very popular and successful for it theory’s and findings, it does however contain many causes for argument. For starters one of his most famous studies was the bobo doll. The use of a doll can be critised as its not real and it may be due to the children’s acknowledgement of this that they may be acting aggressively because they know its only a toy and no they are not doing any real physical damage to anyone. This statement however can also be challenged as the children recorded as most violent to the doll was also said to be aggressive to their teachers at school and their parents at home. But again because of this maybe the aggression was not learnt by the doll after all.