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a) Outline two psychological theories of aggression (12 marks) b) Evaluate two theories of aggression that you outlined in part a) in terms of relevant research studies (12 marks) a) Outline and evaluate two psychological theories of aggression (24 marks) Aggression is an example of anti-social behaviour. It has been defined as ‘any form of behaviour directed towards the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such harm’. Social Psychological theories of aggression These explain aggression as a result of social interactions
Social Learning Theory (SLT) One of the most influential theories of aggression is the Social Learning theory put forward by Bandura (1973). The nature of the theory suggests human aggression is learned either through direct experience or by observing aggressive behaviour in other people i. e. indirect experience. Bandura produced two assumptions in relation to the social learning theory. He stated that if a child acts aggressively against another child and as a result gets what they want, their aggressive behaviour has been reinforced.
This is an example of learning by direct experience, derived from the principles of the traditional learning theory; operant and classical conditioning. Secondly, he stated that if a child observes another person behaving in an aggressive manner, they may imitate that behaviour them selves, particularly if they see the model reinforced for behaving in that way. This is an example of vicarious experience. Results from Bandura’s studies have shown that children are more likely to imitate models if they are similar to themselves, have some kind of status or who are seen to be rewarded for their actions.
He also applied these factors to his Social Learning theory. Bobo Doll study Bandura (1961) Support for the Social Learning theory comes from studies using Bobo dolls (an inflatable toy). This was conducted by Bandura et al (1961). He carried out a study where Nursery school children watched a film where an adult model behaved aggressively or non-aggressively towards a Bobo doll. The adult model displayed some distinctive physical acts of aggression, for example kicking it and using verbal aggression such as Pow!
Following this, the children were taken to a room and shown attractive toys that they were forbidden to play with. This created a sense of frustration within the children. They were then taken to a room containing a Bobo doll and other toys and were then rated for the amount of aggression they showed. Bandura found that children in the aggressive condition reproduced the physical and verbal behaviours modelled by the adult. In contrast children in the non-aggressive condition showed very little aggression towards the doll. This shows that children can acquire aggressive behaviours from watching the actions of others.
Evidence that supports the Social Learning Theory Further research evidence has been carried out in relation to aggression which supports Bandura’s theory. Silvern and Williamson (1987) investigated the effect video games have on aggression. They found that aggression levels in children increased after playing violent games. This suggests that this was due to imitation or modelling. However, the study lacks validity because it only identifies short term aggression, not long term aggression therefore, it does not prove any permanent effects.
Furthermore, Margeret and Mead (1935) studied aggression in relation to cross cultural differences. She studied three New Gunea tribes and found that each tribe behaved different in terms of aggressive tendencies. This suggests that the fact that some societies were more aggressive than others supports the role of social learning in aggression. However, the fact that the men were relatively more aggressive in each society suggests that some aspects of aggression are biologically determined. Evidence that challenges the Social Learning Theory
However, this theory has been challenged by a number of psychologists. Johnston et al (1977) carried out another study in which he found that children who behaved most aggressively towards the doll were the ones rated by the teachers as most violent generally. Also, Durkin (1995) suggested that Bandura made no distinguish between aggressive behaviour and play fighting. These studies therefore suggest that the findings from the Bobo Doll study lack reliability. In addition, the study has ethical issues as it encourages aggression in children.
Furthermore, the situation is unlike a lot of ‘real-life’ modeling as hitting a doll is no the same as hitting a person. This leads to the assumption that Bandura over exaggerated the extent to which children imitate the behaviour of models. This also leads to the criticism that the study lacks ecological validity due to its artificial setting; therefore the results may not apply to real life. Also, some critics argue that the children were manipulated into responding to the aggressive movie. This was because the children were teased and became aggressive because they could not touch the toys.
Finally, there is a problem that the study suffers from high demand characteristics due to the children being given cues how to behave, resulting in the participants to behave in certain predictable ways. Alternative theories Alternative social psychological theories of aggression have also been produced, challenging the idea that aggression is solely based upon imitation, modelling and reinforcement. Deindividuation theory One of these is the Deindividuation theory proposed by Zimbardo (1969). Deindividuation refers to the loss of a sense of personality identity that can occur when we are for example, in a large crowd or wearing a mask.
We then become more likely to engage in anti-social, un-socialised behaviour. Zimbardo (1969) distinguished between individual behaviour, which conforms to acceptable social standards, and deindividuated behaviour, which does not conform to society’s social norms. He claimed that people don’t normally act aggressively because they are easily identifiable in societies that have strong norms against aggressive behaviour. Being anonymous (and therefore effectively unaccountable) in a crowd has the consequence of reducing inner restraints and increasing behaviours that are usually inhibited.
According to Zimbardo, being in part of a crowd can reduce awareness of our own individuality. In a large crowd, each person is faceless and anonymous (so the larger the group, the greater the anonymity), reducing the fear of negative evaluation of our actions and a diminishing the sense of guilt. Therefore, individuals feel less constrained by the norms of social behaviour and as a result, they may be more inclined to act in an anti-social way. This is supported by Mann (1981) who found evidence of Deindividuation in the ‘baiting crowd’ (crowds who frequently baited a potential suicide victim to jump).
Mann found that baiting increased under conditions which increased the anonymity of the crowd (e. g. numbers, darkness and distance from the victim). This therefore supports the claim that deindividuation increases aggressive behaviour. The deindividuation theory is also supported by Zimbardo (1969) who left ‘abandoned’ cars in New York and a small town in California. He found the ‘abandoned’ car in the big city was stripped and vandalised very quickly whereas the one in the small town was left alone.
This suggests that the larger the group, the more anonymous the individual is and, consequently, the more extreme the antisocial behaviour becomes. Futhermore, Zimbardo (1963) conducted a study specifically to demonstrate the effects of deindividuation on aggression. Participants were asked to shock a confederate. Some were deindividuated (wore a hood, no names were used and they sat in a dimly lit room) and others were easily identifiable (they wore name tags and sat in a bright room). The findings showed that the deindividuated students administered the most shocks, i.
e. were most aggressive, suggesting that deindividuation plays a role in producing anti-social behaviour. However, the major difficulty with using Deindividuation as an explanation for aggression is the fact that it does not always lead to aggression. In some circumstances it can lead to high levels of pro-social behaviour, for example wearing a nurse’s uniform. Overall Evaluation Overall, the Social learning theory can account for the fact that a person’s aggressive behaviour may not be consistent across different situations.
It may be reinforced in some situations, but punished in others (context-dependant learning). Furthermore, studies carried out into video games and aggressions are consistent with the Social Learning theory. However, alternative explanations such as the biological explanation (e. g. levels of testosterone are linked to aggressive behaviour) challenge the view that social learning is the primary causal factor in aggression. In addition, the social learning theory is limited in scope because aggression doesn’t just depend on observational learning.
This is supported by cross cultural evidence which demonstrates that some aspects of aggression are innate. Effects of environmental stressors on aggressive behaviour Use for: Describe and evaluate research (theories or studies) into the effects of two or more environmental stressors on aggressive behaviour (24 marks) A number of environmental factors have been identified as triggers for aggression. Some of these possible environmental features are temperature, overcrowding and noise.