In this social psychology essay I will be breaching the subject of ‘can aggression be reduced?’ However instead of simply relating this to all forms of aggression, my main focus will be solely on childhood aggression.
This is a particularly important question, not only within the psychological community but also within everyday life. If it is possible to tackle the stem of the problem within children then it is likely not to get out hand as they grow up to be functional members of society. Initially we must first define what people think and categorise as ‘Aggression’. Aggression is “a response that delivers a noxious stimuli to another organism” (Buss 1961, P28)
Paragraph 1: Modelling
The afore mentioned definition is simply one of many, however, it is the most applicable definition in relation to childhood aggression. Other definitions explain it is only aggressive if there was a malicious intent, a subject which is debatable in small children as how to you measure or identify if a small child had malicious intentions.
A possible explanation of childhood aggression could be through the process of modelling, a process that holds it’s focus in social psychology and explains that when we see our role models or simply people who we look up to slightly act in a certain way we will imitate that behaviour in order to be more like them.
This theory has experiments that could be linked with an example of this is the Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) experiment the Bobo doll experiment.
This experiment was conducted in order to establish if children witnessed aggression by an adult they would imitate this aggressive behaviour when given the opportunity. The experiment it’s self was conducted on 72 aged 3-6 children with 36 of each gender to allow for generalisability across both genders.
In this experiment there was 3 stages and 3 conditions in the 1 st condition
Stage 1, modelling: 3 conditions. Condition 1, 24 children shown an aggressive model playing with a aggressive toys. Condition 2 was a non aggressive model in which the next set of 24 children where showed a model playing passively and nicely with non-aggressive toys and condition 3 was simple a control group it used the last set of 24 children and simply allowed them to play with all of the toys aggressive and non-aggressive toys without watching a model before hand.
Stage 2, aggression arousal : in this stage each child was taken into a room with an experiment filled with exciting toys one at a time and once the child started playing with the toys the experimenter taken the toy from them and say it was his favourite toy and he is saving it for other children to play with and then moved the child into the next room stage 3, test for delayed imitation: when the children arrived in this room they where left for 20 minutes to play with the toys that where in the room and watched through a one way mirror in order to see what reaction the children would have. The room contained a wide array of toys both aggressive and non-aggressive and a 3ft bobo doll.
The result from this experiment show a multitude of things, it showed that children from the aggressive condition where far more aggressive than those from the control or non-aggressive conditions, boys are more likely to imitate models of the same gender than girls are and that boys are more likely to imitate physical aggression than girls but there was little difference in the case of verbal aggression.
To use this sense of modelling to reduce aggression in children we could possibly remove or limit the amount of exposure to aggressive models children have, especially if they ‘re the same gender as the child. Also it would be a good idea to lower the amount of aggressive behaviour the children see from their parents as they are the leading role models for a young child as they typically will have the most exposure with there type of people and if they see these people being aggressive they are more likely to be also. Inversely if they see there models being kind and well behaved then the theory of modelling would dictate that then the children would pick up and imitate this behaviour instead.
Paragraph 2: criticism and conditioning
The Bobo doll experiment itself has a couple drawbacks that must be considered, for starters the experiment it’s self was in a laboratory and therefore lacks ecological validity because it is an artificial situation in an artificial environment also because the models where complete strangers this could of put an unknown extraneous variable onto the child thus causing heightened aggression which Is unlike everyday modelling which usually takes place either with people the child knows or knows a lot about and also because it was such a short study that did no follow up on the children it is impossible to know if they children where simply acting aggressively in the situation or if this aggression followed them into later life because of these elements the experiment and thus it’s findings are at best questionable, however, some could argue that the basis is correct.
Instead of using a variation of modelling to reduce aggression you could use conditioning, specifically operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is learning through association and could be used in relation to this case through very simple means. By utilizing negative reinforcement for undesirable/aggressive behaviour the child would learn to associate a link between the negative reinforcement and certain specific behaviour. This works giving the child something which it does not like for example extra chores or making them stay in there room until they have reached a acceptable standard of behaviour and then removing the restriction so they understand that good behaviour causes good thing but aggressive behaviour causes them to be given these restrictions and chores, a deterrent in which they will seek to avoid.
Positive reinforcement however could also be used to reinforce the desirable behaviour such as acting calmly or anything but aggressive behaviour, this would work by giving the child praise or a treat upon them being good. This would in turn cause them to associate this positive reinforcement and the feeling it gives them with their good behaviour which would make the likely hood of said behaviour increase.
Carrying on with the rout of classical conditioning a parent could also use the form of punishment as according to operant conditioning in order to try and alleviate some of the aggression in the child by punishing the child either by spanking or some other form of minor discomfort or embarrassment once they have been aggressive as according to operant conditioning, punishment weakens behaviour.
A separate aspect of operant conditioning could also be used in conjunction with these 3 aspects is a token economy, what this relates to is a token that can either be gained or taken away depending on the child behaviour and then traded in for different treats or privileges depending on how many they have at the end of each week. This can be seen in schools when teachers have a star chart or other system that allows them to give the best pupil a treat such as a sticker or some sweets, this is also particularly effective because then the child goes home and receives further reinforcement from their parents for being the best behaved.
This system allows the child to realize that their behaviour directly impacts them and that the better behaved they are the more of these tokens they will receive and thus will be able to trade them in for better prizes but is they again act aggressively then they will have them removed and could even be in debt causing them to either gain a lesser prize or depending on how in debt with the tokens could correlate to varying degrees of their punishment either the length or intensity of the punishment these methods could not only lead to reduced aggression in children as it would make them aware of the consequences of their aggressive actions and of there desirable actions but it may even increase the likelihood of desirable behaviour as they are now aware that certain behaviour is actually beneficial to them.
In relation to children and their aggressive behaviour it could be argued that a way to reduce their aggressive behaviour would be through some form of catharsis release in order to get out their pent up frustration. This is according to the frustratoin-aggression hypothesis (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer and Sears,1939), this hypothesis also claims that in some circumstances it the subject may be unable to release their aggression on the stimuli so they them transfer their aggression onto a different target. For example when the supporters of a losing team at a football match vandalise a town, this is because they cant take out their aggression out on the football team or on the football industry so they transfer it towards the town.
So theoretically this could explain why children are aggressive towards other children and towards other children because they have been distressed at home or at school, this could happen when a parent, friend, teacher etc prevent the child from achieving a specific goal causing frustration which then translates into aggression that is then redirected at a unbeknown target.
Another explanation of this would be Freud’s (1930) psycho-dynamic theory in which he states people have two opposing drives, life and death. It is these drives that according to Freud cause us to want sex or to binge eat because our life drive energy is too full and we need to release this energy through life drive related actions. Inversely the death drive can also elicit actions such as self destruction and aggression towards others and towards inanimate objects such as walls or pillows.
There is also one more aspect to conciser with this form of release and that is the effect and strength of the stimuli, this is addressed by Lorenz (1974) when he explains that the amount of aggressive energy is directly linked with the strength of the stimulus. Lorenz uses the example of a steam boiler to explain this e.g. the heat and pressure if the stimuli and the water is the aggressive energy. If the water is exposed for too long or pressure and heat that is too high then you get an explosion, this explains aggressive outbursts by saying that the strength of the stimuli must not be great enough to cause the aggressive energy to over flow and if it is then the energy must not be exposed to the stimulus for excessive amounts of time and also explains that through cathartic release the stimulus has been removed so the aggressive energy will not be increase over the threshold leading to an aggressive outburst. This can also be used to explain childhood aggression and how to reduce it as all you would have to do would be to remove the holder of the aggression energy from eh stimulus so that the energy wasn’t building up and put them into a position in which they can release this energy so that when they are re-exposed to the stimulus the level of aggressive energy has decreased
Because of these theories, we can draw the idea that sporting activities such as Boxing, football, hockey, rugby etc could lead to a decrease in aggressive behaviour and outbursts in children as these are all actions that are linked towards the death drive and would therefore release some of the building death drive energies and could be transferred in a disciplined and controlled manor and because they are away from the stimulus.
To conclude, aggression in children can be reduced through a combined means of cathartic release, operant conditioning and modelling as it would not only lower the child’s aggressive energies but would also show them that the people they look up to and aspire to be are not aggressive and that if they are good they will be rewarded and will be met with positivity, however, if they are acting aggressively or unacceptably then they will be met with deterrents, punishments, disapproval and discomfort which will further the idea to them that being aggressive is an inappropriate way to act and further increasing the likelihood of non-aggressive positive behaviour.
Krahe, B (2001). The Social Psychology of Aggression . Hove: Psychology Press ltd. 28.
McLeod, S. (2011). Bobo Doll Experiment. Available: http://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html. Last accessed 3rd November 2014.
McLeod, S. (2007). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Available: http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html. Last accessed 4th November 2014.