Social psychology is defined as “the scientific study of how a person’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings are influenced by the real, imagined, or implied presence of others. ” This definition is the basis upon which aggression and prosocial behavior are built. As a human being, each of us is given a daily choice of how and if we choose to interact with others. Although aggression and prosocial behavior are at opposite ends of the scale, the general idea behind each of them is that what we see, feel, understand and believe can have a massive impact on the way in which we choose to treat other people.
On one end of the spectrum is aggression, a behavior intended to hurt or destroy another person. There are multiple rationales for what causes aggression and why some are more aggressive than others. The frustration-aggression hypothesis is the concept that different sources of frustration can cause a person to act aggressively. Environmental factors, such as excessive heat or noise, can increase frustration levels and thereby illicit an emotional response of aggression on the closest object.
Other modern approaches for explaining aggression include a biological predisposition and learned behavior. Biologically speaking, it is possible that some gene or genes makes certain people prone to aggressive behavior under specific environmental conditions. Testosterone has also been linked to aggressive tendencies. The commonly known, “Roid Rage” that some bodybuilders and athletes experience when using steroids, is a prime example of increased testosterone affecting aggressive inclinations. Aggressive behavior can also be learned through observation.
Over the years many psychologists have proven this theory in experimentation, such as the Zimbardo “prison experiment” and the Bandura “Bobo doll experiment”. When observing an authoritative figure or peer involving in an aggressive act and being reinforced after, the tendency is that the individual will learn this behavior and act in accordance. Many experiments on the influence of media, such as TV and video games, have looked to push aggressive behavior onto observational learning of violence.
These findings have not been thoroughly proven and remain a public opinion rather than factual evidence. Although consensus has not been reached, and since it may be a culmination of all ideas, it is generally the person’s own choices that permit them to act in an aggressive manor towards others. The other completely different dimension of social interaction is found in prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is all of the “socially desirable behavior that benefits others. ” Altruism is one such behavior.
To be altruistic is to help someone in trouble without concern for one’s self or expectation of reward. However there can be complications when the call for altruistic behavior sounds. When a situation is presented in which a person must make an active decision to help another individual there are five steps that come into play. Noticing, or realizing there may be an emergency, defining the emergency, taking responsibility, planning a course of action and taking action. These steps allow a person to process an incident and decide whether or not they should aid the individual involved.
Two majors concerns also come into effect when prosocial behavior is necessary. The bystander effect, referring to the likelihood of a bystander to aid someone in trouble decreases as the number of bystanders increases. This is sad, but true fact in most situations. It is directly related to the diffusion of responsibility, in which a person fails to take responsibility for either action or inaction because of the presence of other people that share in the responsibility. This push of accountability allows someone to rationalize why they chose not to react to an emergency.
If there are other individuals present, then they could have also done something, so the vicious cycle continues and no help is ever given. In both social behaviors, aggression and prosocial, the responsibility for a person’s actions are placed solely upon them. Even in cases of aggression where medical treatment is necessary, the individual must still take responsibility to acknowledge the problem and find a solution. As with all human interaction, people are presented with many options every day. It is how people decide to act or not act that creates the spectrum of behavior studied by psychologists today.