Behavior directed toward the goal of
harming another living being, who is
motivated to avoid such treatment.
• Intentions are a hidden process we can’t
observe directly; even the people involved
often don’t know why they behaved as they
did or what they wanted to accomplish, so
although psychologists define aggression as
intentional harmdoing, they realize that
determining whether aggression was
intentional or not is a difficult task.
Theoretical Perspectives on Aggression
• The role of biological factors: from instincts to
the evolutionary perspective (humans are
somehow ‘programmed’ for violence by their
• Freud’s ‘death wish’
• Konrad Lorenz’s ‘fighting instinct’
• Until recently with advent of evolutionary
perspective, these theories largely rejected by
• Many psychologists still reject that aggression
stems from innate factors, many now accept the
possibility that genetic factors play some role in
aggression (males aggressing against other males
to secure mates and transmit genes to offspring,
less against females who would reject them as
potential mates. Females aggress against both
males and females, more males.
• biological/genetic factors play some role, but
more complex than earlier theories suggest
• Theories suggesting that aggression stems
from external conditions, especially
frustration, which arouse the motive to harm
or injure others. This drive leads to aggression.
• Frustration-aggression hypothesis: suggests
that frustration is a very powerful
determinant of aggression. Frustration,
however, has been found to be only one of
many causes of aggression.
Modern Theories of Aggression
• Social Learning Theory: Humans are not born
with various aggressive responses at their
disposal but acquire them through direct
experience or by observing others (living
persons, those in the media and video games).
Through experience and culture individuals
– Various ways of seeking harm to others
– Which persons/groups are appropriate targets
– What actions by others justify
– What situations permit or approve of aggression
General Aggression Model
• A chain of events that may lead to aggression
can be initiated by a wide range of input
variables influencing affect, cognition, arousal:
– Factors relating to the current situation
(situational factors such as an insult, exposure to
others behaving aggressively, high temp’s, a
dentist’s drill, failing a test)
– Factors relating to the persons involved (person
factors such as traits like high irritability, certain
attitudes or beliefs about violence, tendency to
see perceive hostile intentions in others’ behavior,
general skills related to aggression).
GAM and arousal, affective states and
Situational and individual input variables can lead
to overt aggression by their impact on three basic
• Arousal: they may increase psychological arousal
• Affective states: they can arouse hostile feelings
and outward signs
• Cognitions: induce one to have hostile thoughts
or bring beliefs about aggression to mind
Anderson and Bushman (2002)
expanded on GAM
• Individual’s who are exposed to high levels of
aggression, either directly or indirectly
through media/video games, may tend to
become increasingly aggressive. Repeated
exposure strengthens knowledge structures
r/t aggression (beliefs, attitudes, schemas). As
they grow stronger, it’s easier to activate
them by situational or personal inputs, and
people are truly ‘primed’ for aggression.
Causes of Human Aggression
• Social Causes
– Frustration: but less so than earlier thry’s suggest,
people also react w/sadness, despair, etc. not only
– Direct provocation: actions by others that trigger
aggression because perceived as malicious.
– Heightened arousal as explained in the excitation
transfer theory: arousal produced in one situation
can persist and intensify emotional reactions to
Exposure to Media Violence
• Depictions of violent actions in the mass
media carry much more violence than we are
exposed to in real life. Exposure to media
violence may be one factor contributing to
real life violence in countries where such
materials are viewed by large numbers of
Media Violence Conclusions by Experts
• Research indicates that violent media
materials significantly increases the likelihood
of aggressive and violent behavior in persons
exposed to them.
• Such effects are both short- and long-term.
• The magnitude of these effects are large.
• Effects are real, lasting and important.
• (shown in lab experiments and longitudinal
Why do media violence effects occur?
• GAM theory suggests that repeated exposure
to media violence can strongly affect
cognitions relating to aggression, gradually
creating a hostile expectation bias—a strong
expectation that others will behave
aggressively, which causes individuals to
behave more aggressively themselves.
(violent video games/reading stories study)
• Although there is less evidence on this issue,
findings suggest that exposure to violent
– Can increase men’s willingness to aggress against
– Repeated exposure appears to produce a
desensitizing effect, in which emotional reactions to
victims of sexual mistreatment become reduced
– Seems to encourage callous attitudes towards sexual
violence (believe myths about rape)
Cultural factors in Aggression
• Cultures of honor: cultures in which there are
strong norms indicating that aggression is an
appropriate response to insults to one’s
– Sexual jealousy: in culture’s of honor infidelity by
women is seen as a threat to male honor and can
result in drastic responses (in Iraq, unmarried
women who are not virgins may be executed to
protect the family’s honor).
– Crimes of passion condoned in some cultures
(Latin America, South of the U.S.)
Personal causes of Aggression
• Type A behavior pattern: highly competitive,
irritable and aggressive characteristics, more
aggressive than type B, and more likely to engage
in hostile aggression, in which the prime
objective is inflicting harm on the victim (child
abuse, spouse abuse higher in type A).
• Type A’s are not more likely than B’s to engage in
instrumental aggression, which is carried out to
attain other goals aside form harming victim
(praise for being ‘tough’ or controlling resources).
Personal Causes cont.
• Perceiving Evil Intent in Others: attributions
concerning the causes of others’ behavior play
important role in aggression and is the basis of
the hostile attributional bias, which refers to the
tendency to perceive hostile intentions or
motives in others’ actions when these actions are
• Narcissism causes people to react with
exceptionally high levels of aggression because of
doubts about their inflated their egos so negative
feedback is a threat. Also perceive themselves as
victims of transgressions more often.
Personal Causes cont.
• Gender differences: males are generally more
likely to aggress and be the victims of aggression
throughout the life span, yet size of differences
varies across situations. Much larger gender
differences seen in the absence of a provocation,
when provocation is present, differences
• Males higher in direct aggression, females in
indirect (seen as young as 8 and increase,
observed in several countries)
Situational determinants of Aggression
• Temperature and aggression: there is a link
between climate and human aggression, many
people report feeling irritable and short-
tempered on hot days, but beyond some level,
aggression declines because people become so
uncomfortable and fatigued.
• Alcohol & Aggression: alcohol reduces cognitive
functioning/social perception, less able to
evaluate others’ intentions and the effects that
behavior may produce. Effects stronger for those
who normally show low levels of aggression
Aggression in Long-Term Relationships
• Bullying: a pattern of behavior in which one
individual is chosen as the target of repeated
aggression by one or more others; the target
person (victim) generally has less power than
those who engage in the aggression (bullies).
– Motives: 1) to hold power over others and
2) to be part of a group that is ‘tough’ and so
confers status on its members.
– For girls, research shows also depression was a
also a motive (to reduce negative feelings)
Characteristics of Bullies and Victims
• Bullies tend to believe others act the way
they do because of lasting characteristics
while victims perceive others as acting as they
do in part b/c they are responding to external
conditions, such as how others have treated
them. Bullies use the hostile attributional bias,
and attack others b/c they see them as
potentially dangerous and want to get the first
• Some people are always bullies, some are always
victims, some are both.
• Bullies, as well as bully-victims, tend to have
lower self-esteem and attack others to build up
their own self-images. Plus they tend to adopt a
ruthless, manipulative approach to life and to
dealing with others (don’t trust, so justify taking
unfair advantage of others). And they believe
that responding w/aggression will bring respect
and make them feel better.
Reducing the Occurrence of Bullying
• Must be seen as a problem by all involved parties
—teachers, parents, students, prisoners, guards,
fellow employees, supervisors.
• A person in authority must draw attention to it
and stand against it.
• Victims must be told exactly what to do and who
see when bullying occurs.
• Outside help is often useful in identifying the
cause/devising programs to reduce it.
• Any form of behavior through which
individuals seek to harm others in their
workplace. Covert rather than overt (relatively
subtle allowing aggressors to harm others
without being identified as the source).
– Expressions of hostility
– Obstructionism: designed to obstruct the target’s
– Overt aggression: physical assault, theft, etc.
• Behavior in which supervisors direct frequent
hostile verbal and nonverbal behavior toward
their subordinates (between coworkers and
also among supervisors and employees).
– Public and private ridicule, exclusion from
activities, invasion of personal space, rude
behavior, lying, taking credit for a subordinate’s
work; all occur with high frequency/increasing.
– Causes: perceived unfairness, societal norms,
downsizing, layoffs, increase in part-time
Punishment: delivery of aversive
consequences for specific actions
• Major technique for reducing aggression
(large fines, prison, confinement, capital
• Why used?
– To make amends for harm done (punishment
matches the crime)
– deter aggressors from such behavior in future
(ease of detection matches level of punishment)
– Removing dangerous people from society
Does punishment work?
• Punishment can reduce aggression but only if
it meets four basic requirements:
– It must be prompt and follow aggressive acts as
quickly as possible
– Must be certain to occur—probability that it will
follow aggressive acts must be very high
– Must be strong—strong enough to be highly
unpleasant to potential recipients
– Must be perceived by recipients as justified or
Cognitive interventions to reduce
• Apologies—admissions of wrongdoing that
include a request for forgiveness—often go a
long way toward defusing aggression (excuse
giving can also be effective).
• Preattribution—attributing annoying actions
by others to unintentional causes before the
• Preventing yourself or others from dwelling
on previous real or imagined wrongs
• The view that providing angry persons with
the opportunity to express their aggressive
impulses in relatively safe ways will reduce
their tendency to engage in more harmful
forms of aggression (venting activities such as
watching, reading about/imagining aggressive
activities, aggressive play). Yet research
suggests this may actually increase
Forgiveness: compassion instead of
• Giving up the desire to punish those who have
hurt us, and seeking instead to act in kind,
helpful ways toward them.
• People who forgive more readily are higher in
agreeableness and emotional stability.
• Involves empathy, generous attributions and
avoiding rumination about past transgressions
• Forgiveness enhances psychological well-