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Factors that can lead to aggression Essay

In what was at the time named West Germany, there were 2467 cases of manslaughter or attempted murder in the one year of 1990. The rest of Europe had similar figures and the United States had an even higher number or cases (Mummendey, 1996). This begs the question as to why these events occur, and more specifically, what are the causes of this aggression? Therein lays the key to controlling and diminishing aggressive behaviour, in the identification of the factors that lead to aggression. This essay will illustrate the personal and situational factors of aggression and the theories that can be associated to them. Comment by Psychology Marker: A reference is needed to support this claim. Comment by Psychology Marker: Good to explicitly state aims of an essay like this near to the beginning.

Aggression is not easily defined as it consists of many facets. As a noun, aggression has the intent to harm. As an adjective, aggression can describe an action made with persistence and intent according to Lloyd et al. (1984: cited in Gross, 1992). Aggressive behaviour is predominantly the object of study as it is easier to observe and thus measure, than the emotion behind the intent to behave aggressively. There are also different types of aggression. Hostile aggression is to cause harm for the sake of it, whilst instrumental aggression has a purpose, such as self-defence, as written by Buss (1961: cited in Gross, 1992). Comment by Psychology Marker: Good to define key terms near the beginning.

Different factors can lead to a person behaving aggressively. There are _situational factors_, which is the environment you are experiencing, and _personal factors_, which are collectively unique to each person. But knowing these factors are not enough, the links between the factors and the aggressive behaviour are also important. To evaluate this link, there are two main schools of thought when it comes to the theories of aggression. The social theories consider aggression to be a learned behaviour from the observations and interactions in social experiences. Whereas the biological perspective argues that aggression is innate and instinctual, which is hereditarily passed down and that we are born with. Factors can be described using these theories.

Personality is a _personal factor_, and it is determined by variables such as age and gender, cultural and social backgrounds, and also through personal experiences gained over a life time. Type A personality is a syndrome which is associated with a susceptibility to coronary heart failure and overactive and excessive competitiveness. This was demonstrated in research by Baron (1989: cited in Wall & Callister, 1995) where managers with Type A personalities had higher conflict with peers and subordinates than Type B personalities. Narcissists with a sense of entitlement and high self-esteem are more likely to be aggressive (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). Although, it can be shown that people with low self-esteem are also likely to be aggressive, as they have a poor frustration tolerance (Reynolds et al., 2013). Comment by Psychology Marker: References are needed for each of the things in this list! Comment by Psychology Marker: Type A personality is not considered a syndrome today.

Frustration exists when a person has an expected outcome and that outcome has been prevented from occurring (Dollard et al., 1957). The Frustration-Aggression Theory argues that frustration toward a particular event or person, results in aggression. This aggression is towards the frustration’s source, or is displaced if that source is unavailable. This might be the case if aggression is toward an object, such as the economy, or a superior, as is shown in the study on Type A personality managers, by Baron (1989) where they had conflict with their subordinates and peers, but not with their own supervisors. However, the theory is a bit too simplistic and frustration is a difficult variable to measure. Comment by Psychology Marker: How so? Remember to try to fully explore points made so that your marker is clear on exactly what you mean.

So from this theory it may be reasoned that purposefully releasing pent up frustration in a non-harmful way to anyone, such as playing an aggressive video game, might be a healthier alternative to displacing that frustration on somebody or something that didn’t initiate the frustration. The Cathartic Hypothesis holds that position, the belief that emotions are pent up inside oneself and need to be acted out to purify the person’s feelings (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011). There is research to the contrary however, that acting out aggressive behaviour only further increases it, as seen by Bushman, Baumeister & Stack (1999: cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2011), where students who had written essays which were heavily critiqued were then allowed to hit a punching bag, believing it to relieve stress. When participating in a task with who they believed was the person who critiqued their essay, the students who had used the punching bag were more aggressive. Comment by Psychology Marker: Could tou develop this point in some way? Perhaps be including some critique or by adding more recent research and showing how it is similar or different?

This contrary evidence could be explained by the Excitation-Transfer Model. A social model which believes that residual arousal can be transferred from one situation (its initiation) to another. This may lead to the likelihood of aggression, which is dependent on whether that person is more prone to aggressive behaviour. An example of this is where someone has had a bad day at work and was criticised by their boss, initiating the arousal (as previously shown in the Frustration – Aggression hypothesis, it is unlikely that this person would elicit aggressive behaviour toward their superior, thus it is displaced). This person then returns home and snaps at their partner.

Another example would be losing at a video game and then being more aggressive when training later that day. Zillman (1984: cited in Crisp & Turner, 2010) regards this to be residual arousal and can carry over into a completely different context. The problem with the Excitation – Transfer Model is that whilst one person may have a rough day at work, come home, snaps at their partner then apologises, another might come home from a rough day at work and beat their children. The Model specifies that it is more likely when that person is more prone to aggressive behaviour (_personal factors_). What of situational factors? An idea to consider is whether the environment that one may find oneself in is more or less likely to elicit aggressive behaviour.

Cognitive Neoassociationalist Model (Berkowitz, 1969 & 1989) provides an explanation for just that. It holds the Cue – Arousal Theory that frustration only at times leads to aggression so therefore at other times does not. So in line with the Frustration – Aggression Hypothesis, Berkowitz agreed that the arousal gained from frustration may manifest in another situation. However this situation’s environment must carry appropriate cues for the aggression to manifest. For these cues to be appropriate in eliciting aggression they, whether it be a person or an object, must have been repeatedly linked with violence or anger in the past. Weapons, which are _situational factors_, have this effect. Some objects such as knives have a utilitarian purpose whereas a revolver for instance, has only aggressive qualities associated with it.

Berkowitz & LaPage (1967) found support for this theory and researched the likelihood of aggression increasing due to the presence of a weapon. Male college students were electrically shocked in varying amounts by confederates, with the reasoning that the more participants were shocked, the angrier the participants would be, constructing two groups; one with high anger and one with low anger. These two groups were then further subdivided again into two groups. The control had no weapon present whilst the situational cue condition had a revolver and shotgun present.

They were then given the opportunity to shock the confederate. Results showed that whilst the easily predicted outcome that the angrier participants in each condition gave more shocks than the less angry, the situational cue condition gave more shocks than the control overall, by the less angry and more angry. This contributes to the theory that appropriate situational cues in the environment tend to elicit more aggressive behaviour. Comment by Psychology Marker: This is a nice description but could you evaluate this in some way by including some attempts to be critical?

Whilst cues in the environment may contribute to increased, or primed, aggressive behaviour, the physical environment itself may also increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. Crowding is a _situational factor_ of aggression, due to its associated feelings of stress and lack of personal space. Lawrence & Andrew (2004) investigated the effects of crowding in male prisons. They found that protagonists were perceived as more malignant and events deemed to be more aggressive. Crowding can also bring on a sense of deindividuation, feeling that acting aggressively has a reduced likelihood of punishment. An extreme case of this is the My Lai Massacre, where soldiers in the Vietnam War were given ‘free fire’. As they were part of a large group and that gave them the feeling of anonymity to gang rape, mutilate and murder an entire village of innocent civilians, without thought of punishment. Comment by Psychology Marker: Again, this is a bit descriptive – try to start using evidence critically and to be persuasive. Comment by Psychology Marker: References are needed to give this example more of an authoritative tone.

Deindividuation is a type of disinhibition. Disinhibition is where the constraints that help people avoid aggression (morality, consequence) are slackened. A factor that exemplifies disinhibition is alcohol. Alcohol is a _personal factor_ of aggression because the amount of alcohol consumed can affect individuals differently. Giancola and Zeichner (1997: cited in Crisp & Turner, 2010) found that participants who had consumed alcohol were more likely to behave aggressively. When their blood alcohol concentration was declining, they were no different from the control participants in their levels of aggression. This may be because they experience excitement and are less inhibited, whilst after drinking they may feel tired. These physiological changes occur as the alcohol is slowly broken down in the body. Physiological factors may therefore lead to aggression. Comment by Psychology Marker: A reference would have given this more authority and would have gained extra marks. Comment by Psychology Marker: This section is lacking in evidence to back up statements.

Heat is another _situational factor_ of aggression and it’s link with aggression can be readily see in language “hot headed”, “hot under the collar” and the Scottish “simmer down”. Cohn & Rotton (1997) researched this effect and found an inverted U-shape correlation between heat and aggression. The higher the heat, the likeliness of aggression increases, until a certain point where the heat is too great and has an energy sapping effect. Heat has a circular relationship with aggression. As above it can be shown that heat may be a factor of aggression, but aggression itself causes the body to heat up. These _physiological factors_ include increased pulse rate and blood pressure, peripheral circulation of the blood and the breathing rate is accelerated Storr (1969). This could perhaps mean that heat is a cue for aggression.

These physiological changes don’t immediately die down, giving aggression an ‘all or none’ quality. There are different degrees of aggression but these physiological factors have started and are prolonged to help animals survive through fight or flight. In civilisation, it may be easier to initiate aggression than it is to dispel. As there is much critique of the Cathartic Theory, a person who works out his aggression through physical exertion out may seem psychologically uninformed, but could actually be physiologically smart. This is because they are giving their anger time to subside and making the most of the physical exertion that the body is ready for. Comment by Psychology Marker: A reference is needed to support this claim. Comment by Psychology Marker: Good use of evidence – well done.

In this essay, certain personal and situational factors of aggression were noted. These factors were personality, weapons, heat, alcohol and crowding. These factors were evaluated using the Frustration-Aggression Theory, Cathartic Hypothesis, Excitation-Transfer Model, Cognitive Neoassociationalist Model, Cue Arousal Theory, disinhibition and deindividuation. Physiological factors were also taken into account. Having explored the multiple facets that contribute to aggression, it can be easily seen that the issue of aggressive behaviour is not one easily solved. Perhaps society as a whole needs to change. Comment by Psychology Marker: This is a bit confusing as an ending statement and does not really fit with the rest of your conclusion?


Berkowitz, L. & LaPage, A. (1967). Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. _Journal of Personality and Social Psychology_, 7, 202-207.

Bushman, B. J. & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened Egotism, Narcissism, Self-Esteem, and Direct and Displaced Aggression: Does Self-Love or Self-Hate Lead to Violence? _Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75,_ 219-229.

Crisp, R. J. & Turner, R. N. (2010). _Essential Social Psychology (2nd Ed)_. London: SAGE Publications.

Cohn, E. & Rotton, J. (1997). Assault as a function of time and temperature: A moderator-variable time-series analysis. _Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72,_ 1322 – 1334.

Dollard, J., Miller, N. E., Doob, L. W., Mowrer, O. H. & Sears, R. R. (1957) _Frustration and aggression._ New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gross, R. D. (1992) _Psychology: The science of mind and behaviour._ London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Hogg, M. A. & Vaughan, G. M. (2011). _Social Psychology (6th Ed)._ London: Pentice Hall.

Lawrence, C. & Andrews, K. (2004). The influence of perceived prison crowding on male inmates’ perception of aggressive events. _Aggressive Behaviour, 30,_ 273 – 283.

Mummendey, A. (1996). Aggressive behaviour. In M. Hewstone, W.Stroebe & G. M. Stephenson (Eds.), Introduction to social _psychology_ (pp. 403-435). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Reynolds, T., Zupanick, C.E. &Dombeck, M. (2013) _Behavioural Psychological Features of Intellectual Disabilities._ Retrieved October 20th, 2013, from http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=10328&cn=208

Storr, A. (1969). _Human Aggression._ London: The Penguin Press.

Wall Jr., J. A. & Callister, R. R. (1995) Conflict and Its Management. _Journal of Management, 21,_ 515-558.

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