Psychological theories of aggression

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 group of 36 boys and 36 girls; these children were divided into 8 groups of 6 with the remainder making up the control group. There were two conditions – the aggressive and non-aggressive.

In the aggressive condition an adult model entered the room and attacked a bobo doll whilst the children watched, the model attacked the doll both with various weapons (mallet, hammer) and verbally. In the non-aggressive condition the adult ignored the bobo doll. Bandura found that the children in the aggressive condition were significantly more aggressive when compared to the other two conditions. 70% of those children in the other conditions showed no signs of aggressive at all. Bandura concluded that the observation of other’s behaviours leads to imitative learning.

However, this study does have limitations; the children’s aggressiveness was only limited to a bobo doll, meaning that this was not real aggression. Adding to this, the experiment lacks ecological validity because real life is rarely as clear-cut as this, therefore it is difficult to generalise these findings. IN addition to this Bandura only used adult models; the children were basing their actions on what adults had done, but would these results be the same had they observed children?

This study has also been criticised, as it is vulnerable to demand characteristics, as some of the children felt like they were expected to attack the doll. Despite these limitations, the study was well executed and planned, and clearly showed that the children had learned their behaviour. In addition to SLT, there is also the deindividuation theory of aggression, which suggests that when people experience a loss of identity they become aggressive due to a loss of inhibitions, for example when in a large crowd or a darkened room.

Deindividuation works in two ways, the first is when individuals are lost in a group and large crowds begin to ‘act as one’ (Le Bon), and the second is when individuals have anonymity. Either way, these two routes lead to decreased self-awareness and diffusion of responsibility. A number of studies support the theory such as Zimbardo’s Anonymous Lab Coat (ALC) study, in which there were two groups of participants, one dressed in lab coats with hoods to hide their identity, and the other dressed in normal clothes with name tags shown.

All participants were females. The participants had to administer electrical shocks to a confederate when the person answered questions wrong (concept taken from Milgram’s shocking obedience study). Zimbardo found that those with their identities disguised shocked for longer and therefore more painfully than the control group did. This suggests that anonymity leads to aggressive behaviour, supporting the deindividuation theory.

However, the sample was made up of entirely women, limiting the study by not being able to generalise these results to males. Additionally, the study was unethical as there was no informed consent and protection from harm. The study has also been criticised for having a KKK effect, as the participants in lab coats may have associated them selves with the Ku Klux Klan image, which could have accounted for the long/painful shocks rather than the suspected anonymity.

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 …

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 …

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 …

The first assumption is that children learn correct ways to behave from interaction with parents, “rough-house play with dads helps a child to learn self control”. Albert Bandura was a pioneer in the social learning theory that explains that children …

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