There are many reliable ways, which may give a clear explanation of the term aggression. Some of these explanations consider aggression as a form of human behavior that develops on the base of frustration, as a type of behavior that leads to pain or harm, or as a critical form of existence of any alive species. There are two major theories, which deal with aggression essence, its development, its causes, and consequences. They include psychological theory and social learning theory.
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In this paper, the analysis of these two theories and the investigation of aggression as an integral part of human nature will be presented, grounding on the works of such writers as Bandura, Baron, Berkowitz, and Dollard. Social learning and social psychological analyses of aggression prove that that there are many significant bases of aggression, and frustration is one of the most considerable factors, which lead to human aggression as evidence of fighting instincts in a person against other people.
Human Aggression as a Form of Social Behavior
During many centuries, the definitions of aggression have been changed considerably. Lots of scholar offered their own understanding of aggression, its causes, forms, and outcomes.
Aggression may be a kind of emotion that demonstrates person’s negative attitude to the situation, or a motive that may help to achieve the purpose, or an attitude to the situation or to his/her own life in general. In this paper, the definition, offered by Robert Baron and Deborah Richardson (2004), will be used: “aggression is any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (p. 7).
So, aggression, as a form of behavior, has to have certain bases, and first of all, these bases should be biological. Certain biological processes are inherent to people from their birth. Feeling of discomfort if the temperature is too hot or too cold, parching with thirst if there is no opportunity to drink, or feeling of hate when annoying person is near – all these examples may cause frustration and arouse aggression.
Little children are not able to comprehend what aggression can mean and how to demonstrate it in a proper way, this is why they just burst into tears and cry. Adult people, who are already aware of the forms of aggression, realize that their frustration is a good reason of aggressive acts and demonstrate their aggression in order to harm the others.
In order to achieve the necessary goal, people should choose the right development of aggression. Baron and Richardson (2004) admit that aggression development depends on many factors, which may be connected to the situation, environment, people around, and personal attitude to the situation. Feeling of anger may arouse to unbelievable sizes; the most serious ones are tyranny, wars, and conflicts.
If a person is not able to develop his/her aggression in a proper way, the results of his/her frustration or discontent of the particular situation may be unpredictable and cause considerable losses. In order to start demonstrating own aggression and involve people, it is very important to evaluate the level, on which the situation happens. As a rule, after aggression, certain punishment follows, and people should think over whether they are ready to any form of punishment.
Social Learning Theory on Aggression
Aggression is always considered as a central social problem, because even slight aggressive acts may lead to unpredictable fatal outcomes and actions (Bandura, 1973). Aggressive potential that is inherent to any human increases because of all those changes, which take place within social conditions.
Lots of theories aim at producing the most effective and complete explanations of why people cannot control their behavior and take the aggressive steps. One of the most famous and reliable theories on aggression is the one, offered by Albert Bandura in 1973. According to Bandura (1973) “aggression must consider both injurious behavior and social judgments that determine which injurious acts are labeled as aggressive” (p. 5).
Social learning theory is one of those parts of social psychology that is based on the idea that people have to enlarge their level of knowledge and practice by means of observations the actions of other people in the same social context. With the help of social learning theory that was offered by Albert Bandura, the significance of this problem has been raised considerably: he offered to investigate and analyze the process of aggression by means of behavior modeling.
There are three ideas of aggression’s origins: (1) observations, (2) learning through own experience, and (3) inborn characteristics. Bandura (1973) states that people are not born with clear awareness of aggressive behavior and its possible power, and the origins of aggression may be examined on children’s behavior and perception of the reality.
Usually, children prefer to learn something new from observing behavior of other people and truly believe that aggression is one of the most powerful means, which may lead to reinforcement in families and in the environment in general. Of course, there are several exceptions in the origins of aggression, because sometimes, aggression may be developed due to certain biological conditions like neurophysiologic mechanisms.
During the observational experiments with the Bobo doll, Bandura defined three possible conditions of aggression within children: non-aggressive, aggressive, and control. Each of these conditions proves that child aggression may be developed to its full extent due to observations and copying the other people’s behavior.
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The point is that children reactions on what they see at that very moment cannot be introduced immediately. It is quite possible that children learn something, keep this material in their memories, and use it at the time, they believe their aggression will be rewarding. Because of that, it is crucially important to pay more attention to the behavior that may influence child perception of this world and present the best and rational examples of how to solve this or that problem.
Overuse of alcohol, discomfort, or pain may become of the factors, which may increase aggression and cause hostile responses. When a person feels uneasy being in one and the same place for some period of time, his/her perception of the situation and reaction to other people’s words or actions may be rather aggressive, and anger becomes one of the driving factors.
Frustration is also regarded as one of the most widespread causes of aggression. At the beginning of the 20th century, John Dollard and his team of Yale scholars presented one of the most powerful works about aggression, where they investigated the role of frustration and relations, which happen between aggression and frustration.
Their frustration-aggression hypothesis plays a very important role in numerous current studies concerning the impact of aggression in every day human life. According to Dollard and his team (1939), frustration is identified as something that creates certain blocks for people in achieving the settled goal.
Even if frustration may not cause direct aggressive acts, this condition should certainly instigate aggression. The essence of frustration-aggression hypothesis lies in the idea that some form of frustration will often lead to aggression, because any person has a motivation to achieve the desirable purpose, and when its achievement is blocked by certain reasons, the person becomes irritated and uses aggressive acts to demonstrate his/her frustration.
Dollard et al. (1939) proved that “the occurrence of aggressive behavior always presupposes the existence of frustration and, contrariwise, that the existence of frustration always lead to some form of aggression” (p. 1). The forms of aggression include dominance aggression, when the control of the situation turns out to be impossible, or fear aggression, when fear causes frustration, and aggressive actions seem to be the only possible ones to chance the situation for better.
After investigating this frustration-aggression hypothesis, it becomes clear that the idea that frustration will always cause aggression and aggression is always a result of some frustration is the leading one in this experiment but still remains to be too general.
One of the most important elements of the hypothesis under consideration is possible displacement of aggression. The point is that aggression, caused by frustration, may spread on both the source of this frustration and the targets, which may be somehow related to the source. Another element of this hypothesis is a clear definition of frustration and its source.
There are some kinds of frustration, which cannot lead to aggression but to personal uncertainty, depression, or cooperation with other people, and the frustration-aggression hypothesis will be effective and correct only if the meaning of frustration is clearly defined and strong enough to cause aggression. One more element that has to be mentioned is how a person understands the meaning of aggressive acts.
Frustration will be a leading cause of aggression only in case if a person knows enough about aggression and its forms, which are appropriate for a situation. And proper understanding of aggression and its connection to frustration is possible under the conditions of social learning theory that has been analyzed by Bandura (1973).
Social Psychological Analysis of Aggression
The views of Mr. Dollard have been also used in the work, developed by Leonard Berkowitz. This writer underlines the impossibility of the main idea, presented in frustration-aggression hypothesis. Berkowitz (1962) tells that aggression should be regarded as a result of interaction that happens between emotional state of a person and social settings.
Therefore, frustration alone never can cause aggression but only be one of the stimuli to aggress. Berkowitz’s social psychological analysis of aggression is all about the two major forces, to instigate or to inhibit and all those interactions, which happen between individuals in certain social settings.
There are two possible types of aggression: instrumental and emotional. Instrumental aggression aims at assaulting a person in order to get certain benefit of the situation. Emotional aggression is an impulsive type that aims to save own face and not to lose self-esteem and respect. In comparison to emotional aggression, instrumental aggression directed at gaining the necessary purpose with the possibility to get reward and be under lower risk.
As it was mentioned above, any kind of aggression must have own roots. Also, in order to aggress, people have to be aware of the effects of aggression, its consequences, and outcomes, which may be achieved. It happens that children from good families, where aggression is almost absent, can demonstrate unbelievable surges of aggression.
The question is where these children may observe the examples of aggression. The answer is actually obvious: current mass media does not actually care about what type of information should be presented to people, and inform people of any age, race, and social status about everything, and about the cases of aggression in particular.
Television, newspapers, video games, and comic books are considered to be the main sources of aggression. Berkowitz (1962) proves that “extreme aggression or anxiety reactions do occur in response to scenes of violence in TV movies, and comic books, they acknowledge, but…such extreme reactions happen only if the individual is already strongly aggressive or anxious” (p. 254).
Aggression is a form of behavior that is caused by numerous external and internal factors. Even calm people both children and adults may start aggressing because of the frustration of their plans, discomfort, or annoyance. Human aggression is regarded as one of the most burning issues for our modern society, as it is not just bad behavior that leads to some terrible results, but a form of behavior, a kind of behavioral disorder that may be caused by biological and social cues.
People as well as animals have own instincts in order to survive, be satisfied, and gain recognitions among the members of the same species. If a person fails to achieve one of these goals, frustration takes place and instigates aggression of different forms. This is why it is crucially important to gain control over own possibilities and emotions in order not to provide aggression with a chance to destroy own life.
Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Baron, R. A. & Richardson, D. R. (2004). Human Aggression. New York: Plenum Press.
Berkowitz, L. (1962). Aggression: A Social Psychological Analysis. New York: McGraw Hill.
Dollard, J., Doob L. W., Miller, N. E., Mowrer, O. H., & Sears, R. R. (1939). Frustration and Aggression. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.