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Support that serotonin leads to aggressive behaviour has been found, as human and animal research suggest that serotonin levels influence aggression and violent behaviour. There seems to be a negative correlation as low levels of serotonin, increase aggressive behaviour. Although we cannot determine a causal link as the cause of aggression cannot be attributed solely to serotonin. The link between dopamine and aggression is not as clear as with serotonin. Although there does seem to be a relationship between high levels of dopamine and aggression.
Dopamine is produced in response to rewarding stimuli such as food, sex and recreational drugs. Research suggests that some individuals try to find aggressive encounters because of the rewarding sensations it brings, caused by increases in dopamine. Researchers have also suggested that people can become addicted to aggression, in the same way that they become addicted to food, gambling, etc. Ferrari et al. made a rat fight for 10 consecutive days. On the 11th day it was not allowed to fight.
Researchers found that in anticipation of the fight the rat’s dopamine levels had raised and serotonin levels had decreased.
This shows that experience had altered the rat’s brain chemistry, gearing it up for a fight. This supports the idea that both neurotransmitters are involved in aggressive behaviour and suggests a possible cognitive element in aggression i. e. the anticipation the rats experienced seemed to altar the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is hard to extrapolate these results from animals to humans as it is unclear whether the influence is the same for both.
Hormonal mechanisms such as testosterone and cortisol, are chemicals which regulate and control body functions.
It is said that hormone levels affect a person’s behaviour. An example of a hormone which affects body functions is testosterone. This hormone is found in both men and women, but in larger quantities in men. Testosterone makes aggression more likely, but there is not a causal link. Nelson found a positive correlation between levels of testosterone and aggressive behaviour in male and female prisoners. However these levels were not measured during the aggressive act so we cannot be sure whether hormonal levels are a causal factor.
Observational studies of children have shown that they tend to become more aggressive once they enter puberty and their testosterone levels rise. Pillay found that male and female athletes involved in aggressive sports have higher levels of testosterone than those involved in non-aggressive sports. Despite these findings we can question this using the basal and reciprocal model of testosterone. Did the male and females have high levels of testosterone and so were more competitive and dominant, therefore enjoying aggressive sports as stated by the basal model of testosterone.
Or were the high levels of testosterone in those involved in aggressive sports exerted due to the aggressive sports, as stated by the reciprocal model of testosterone. Whether testosterone causes aggression has not been proved, although it does have an effect on aggressive behaviour. It also plays a big role in encouraging other behaviours i. e. dominance, impulsiveness and competition. These are all adaptive behaviours in human evolution and therefore very important for our survival as species.
Despite this, this is a deterministic view of human behaviour. If aggression is completely controlled by neural and hormonal levels then it follows that individuals don’t exert any free will over their actions and that their behaviour is completely determined by their biochemistry. There are many individuals who have high testosterone levels, who may choose not to act aggressively even though they may be provoked. This demonstrates how a person can exert their free will and choose to override biological impulses.
By only understanding aggressive behaviour from a biological approach, these explanations can be criticised for being reductionist. Simpson argues that testosterone is just one factor linked to aggression and that the effects of environmental stimuli such as heat and overcrowding have at times been found to correlate strongly. Likewise social psychological theories of aggression, e. g. social learning theory and deindividualisation have also received a lot of research support, for example the studies conducted by Bandura and Zimbardo.
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