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Psychological explanation of aggression

Categories Learning, Science

Essay, Pages 4 (991 words)



Essay, Pages 4 (991 words)


Klinesmith et al (2006) showed how testosterone levels change as a result of behaving aggressively. Male participants held either a gun or a children’s toy as part of an experiment. Those who held the gun behaved three times as aggressively as those who handled the toy. Thus, it would seem that aggressiveness can be affected via testosterone by environmental stimuli. In conclusion, it seems that the effect of hormones such as testosterone are still very contrived. It would be reductionist to assume that hormones indefinitely cause aggression, but there does seem to be an effect.

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Any conclusions on causation must be reviewed with caution.

Methodological problems

No effort was made in these studies to distinguish the different types of aggression, i.e. hostile, pro-social and instrumental aggression. This may be important in determining where the causes of aggression lie. Testerone appears to be implicated in only certain forms of aggression e.g. inter-male aggression, but plays no part in predatory aggression (Simpson, 2001).

 There is more than just testosterone involved in implicating aggression. This is seen in non-human animals, e.g., many animals display different levels of aggression depending on the time of year and breeding season, with a corresponding increase in testosterone levels.

There are also methodological problems with testosterone-aggression research. It is not particularly easy to measure testosterone levels in animals. The castration subtraction and replacement technique is also not perfect. It is unethical and also castration subtraction and replacement techniques affect many hormone systems, so identifying the effects of one hormone, namely testosterone, is effectively impossible.

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Animal studies are not necessarily generalisable to humans – Van de Poll and van Goozen (1992) write that ‘there is a danger of triviality or even misleading simplification in many of our extrapolations and animal models.”

Social Learning Theory or ‘SLT’

One psychological explanation of aggression is Social Learning Theory, proposed by Bandura. Social Learning Theory or ‘SLT’ proposes that we can be influenced by environmental factors. It is often called observational learning, because we learn the behaviours of others – as well as learning through our own experience — by observing them and incorporate these behaviours into our own behaviour patterns.

Bandura proposed that we all are born without aggression but we model the behaviours, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. The theory suggests that aggression is a learned behaviour, like so many other behaviours. SLT proposes that behaviour that is reinforced (i.e. rewarded) will be repeated and learned; aggression that is associated with a reward is likely to be incorporated into our behaviour. Learning can also occur indirectly, through observing other people, i.e. by vicarious experience.

As Bandura himself says, “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous if people had to rely soley on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” There are four components to SLT – four processes that result in people incorporating behaviour that they have witnessed/experienced into their own typical behaviour.


someone can learn through observation as long as they are actually observing the person by paying attention to them. Retention: One must incorporate the memory of what they have observed (i.e. the behaviour) into their long term memory. Production: an individual must be capable of reproducing the model’s behaviour so they must possess the physical capability of the modelled behaviour. So, if the behaviour was kicking, you must be able to generate enough energy to move your legs.


if the person feels that if they carry out the behaviour there will be positive reinforcements (e.g. some kind of praise or gift) then they are much more likely to carry it out. The reinforcement must be in the form of an outcome that they value; the model being similar to the observer and being a powered and admired role model is usually required for the incorporation of the behaviour; the model must be seen as similar to the learner, e.g. the same sex/age/interests; the task must be neither too difficult nor too easy to imitate; the observer must have confidence in their own abilities. Bandura also believed that behaviour reinforced by family members has the greatest effect on the learner.

Bandura, Ross and Ross carried out a study to observe the effects of social or vicarious learning. The experiment involved showing children models carrying out aggressive behaviour on a Bobo Doll. The results were that children who had witnessed an aggressive model punching the doll scored significantly higher on levels of aggression than those in the control group, where their model did not punch the doll at all. Thus it would seem that aggression is influenced by us modelling our behaviours on others.

Of course, the study can be criticised for demand characteristics, as the situation was staged and the children may have felt that they were supposed to hit the doll, both because that is what it was designed for and if they were in the aggressive condition, because they felt that they were supposed to copy the behaviour. Other criticisms include the fact that only western children were used, no adults or people from other cultures, so the study suffers from age- and culture-bias.


Overall, SLT has a good reputation amongst psychologists. It has useful applications for psychologists dealing with controlling people’s aggression and other behaviours. It has been supported by numerous studies, including the Bobo doll study. Other studies of Bandura’s have found that watching cartoon aggression produces as much aggression in children as viewing live or filmed aggressive behaviour. It makes cognitive sense that environmental experiences would influence our social learning of violence, especially as children. Some have criticised SLT for being reductionist however, as it fails to account for individuals’ biological factors and the differences of indivuals due to genetic, neurological and learning differences (Jeffery, 1990).

Cite this essay

Psychological explanation of aggression. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/pro-social-instrumental-aggression-4780-new-essay

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