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Social psychological approaches to explaining aggression

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1 Social psychological approaches to explaining aggression
Social psychological theories of aggression, for example social learning theory, deindividuation Institutional aggression Biological explanations of aggression Neural and hormonal mechanisms in aggression Genetic factors in aggressive behaviour Evolution and human aggression Evolutionary explanations of human aggression, including infidelity and aggression Evolutionary explanations of group display in humans, for example sport and warfare


3 Every essay can be broken up into smaller units or ‘modules’
The AO1 content should be about words, the AO2 about 400. You need a 100 word version and a word version for each theory. This is six points (33 words each) of AO1 for the 200 word version, three for the 100 word version. For AO2, aim for eight points at 50 words a point.

4 Theory 1 – Deindividuation Theory

5 Deindividuation Theory
A process whereby normal constraints on behaviour are weakened as persons lose their sense of individuality. Deindividuated people are likely to behave aggressively because their attention to how others might evaluate them is reduced.

6 Zimbardo (1969)

7 Zimbardo (1969) When groups of female participants were required to deliver shocks to another student to ‘aid learning’, those in the deindividuated condition shocked for twice as long as those in the individuated condition.

8 AO2 - The baiting crowd

9 AO2 - The baiting crowd The relationship between deindividuation and aggression is supported by Mann’s analysis of suicide jumpers. Mann (1981) found that in half the cases reported in newspapers, the crowd had baited the victim to jump. These incidents usually occurred at night and when the crowd was large, features likely to produce a state of deindividuation in members of the crowd.

10 Problems with deindividuation
It can increase prosocial behaviour!

11 Problems with deindividuation
The link between deindividuation and aggression is limited because rather than pursuing behaviour ‘based on primitive urges’, deindividuation may cause people to conform to a ‘local’ group norm. This need not necessarily be anti-social, which could therefore account for some contradictory findings concerning increased prosocial behaviour in large crowds.

12 Issues, Debates, Approaches Gender bias in research

13 Issues, Debates, Approaches
Cannavale et al. (1970) suggests that there is a gender bias in deindividuation research with an increase in aggression evident only in all-male groups. Males and females tend to act differently under conditions of deindividuation. Males appear to be more prone to disinhibition of aggressive behaviour when deindividuated than are females.


15 THE FACTS Prisons are violent places. Violent acts in prisons risen by a third in last five years (Howard League, 2009). Murder rate in prisons can be double that in community (Wilson, 2005) IMPORTATION MODEL (Irwin & Cressey) Prisoners bring their own social histories and traits into prison therefore are violent to start with. RESEARCH SUPPORT Harer and Steffensmeier (2006) – 58 US prisons, black inmates had significantly higher rates of violent behaviour but lower alcohol and drug-related misconduct compared to white inmates – reflected social trends outside prison

16 However… This prediction is not supported by other research.
Study of 800+ inmates (DeLisi et al., 2004) - no evidence that violent gang membership had any bearing on violent behaviour while in prison. IDA point… Cultural bias in research. Study of 82,000 prisoners (Gaes et al., 2002) showed Hispanic prisoners more violent than average and Asian prisoners less violent. Ethnicity therefore an important determinant of institutional aggression.

17 THE FACTS Wilson (2010) - Most violence occurs in environments that are hot, noise polluted (e.g. shouting, banging cell doors) and overcrowded (prison population increasing year on year) DEPRIVATION MODEL (Sykes, 1952) Aggression is the product of the stressful and oppressive conditions of prison itself (crowding, heat, noise, loss of freedom) RESEARCH SUPPORT McCorkle et al. (1995) – overcrowding, lack of privacy and lack of meaningful activity significantly influence violence. Light (1990) – as overcrowding in prison increases, so does violent behaviour among inmates.

18 However… Many of the ‘stresses’ identified by Sykes in 1952 have reduced considerably as a result of prison reform, yet violence remains high. Model challenged by research by Poole and Regoli (1983). Best indicator of violence among juvenile offenders was pre-institutional violence regardless of situational factors in institution. IDA - Real-world application Wilson (1990s) – changed levels of noise, heat and crowding at HMP Woodhill, led to dramatic decrease in violent conduct.


20 SEROTONIN Serotonin, in normal levels, exerts calming, inhibitory effect on neuronal firing in the brain. Low levels of serotonin remove this inhibitory effect with the consequence that individuals less able to control impulsive and aggressive behaviour.

21 THE AMYGDALA Serotonin typically works in the frontal areas of the brain to inhibit the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear, anger and other emotional responses. However, if there is less serotonin in these frontal areas, there is less inhibition of the amygdala. As a result, when the amygdala is stimulated by external events, it becomes more active, causing the person to act on their impulses, and making aggression more likely.

22 Metabolite levels - Low in cerebrospinal fluid of people who display aggressive behaviour (Brown et al., 1982). Dexfenfluramine - Aggression levels rose following administration of dexfenfluramine among males only (Mann et al., 1990) . Scerbo and Raine (1993) meta-analysis examined serotonin levels in antisocial individuals - found lower levels of serotonin than normal. AO2 Evidence from animal studies - Rosado et al. (2010) aggressive dogs averaged 278 units of serotonin, while the non-aggressive dogs averaged 387 units.

IDA NON-HUMAN ANIMALS IN AGGRESSION RESEARCH A major challenge to the belief that research on animals can easily be generalized to humans, was provided by the Seville Statement on Violence (1986). Scientists from 12 different countries formally challenged a number of popular beliefs based on scientific findings with animals and humans that have been used to justify violent behaviour in humans. This included the idea that human aggression is instinctual, or could be reduced to the action of neurochemicals as suggested by animal models of aggression.

24 Hormonal mechanisms

Testosterone produces male characteristics, one of which is thought to be aggressive behaviour. Levels reach a peak in young males, then decline. Cortisol has an inverse relationship with aggression as low levels of cortisol are related to high levels of aggressive behaviour.

26 EXPLAINING THE LINK Cortisol mediates the action of testosterone and so inhibits the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. Popma et al. (2006) found significant positive relationship between testosterone and aggression only in participants with low cortisol levels. Alternative explanation – low ANS arousal = low cortisol levels = experienced as unpleasant. Aggressive behaviour is then one way to create stressful situation to provoke ANS activation and cortisol release.

27 Inconsistent evidence – T - Archer (1991) found relationship but Bain et al. (1987) didn’t among violent offenders Research support - C – Longitudinal study by McBurnett et al. (2000) found that boys with lowest levels of cortisol also most aggressive. T - Most studies rely on a narrow sample (prisoners) and rely on self-reports or assumed levels of aggression from severity of offence. AO2 Inconsistent evidence – C - Some studies show no evidence for the link, others (e.g. Gerra et al., 1997) have found higher cortisol levels related to aggressive behaviour.

IDA GENDER BIAS IN RESEARCH Most of what we know about the link between testosterone and aggression is from studies of males only. Some research (e.g. Archer et al, 2005) suggests that the relationship between testosterone and aggression may be even stronger among women. Eisenegger et al. (2011) found that testosterone could make women act ‘nicer’ rather than more aggressively depending on the situation. This lends support to the idea that, rather than directly increasing aggression, testosterone promotes status-seeking behaviour of which aggression is one type.

Aggression is a solution to a range of adaptive problems (e.g. deterring long-term mates from infidelity. Solving these problems enhanced the survival and reproductive benefits of the individual; hence, this mental module would have spread through the gene pool.

Cuckoldry occurs when a woman deceives a man to invest into offspring that are not his own Does it happen? Up to 13.8% of women admitted to ‘extra-pair copulations’ (Baker & Bellis, 1990). So what? Cuckolded men lose both invested resources and reproductive opportunity. Then what? Men evolved mate-retention strategies driven by sexual jealousy

The detection or suspicion of infidelity (voluntary sexual relations between an individual who is married and someone who isn’t their spouse) is a key predictor of partner violence (Daly et al., 1982). A 2006 BBC online survey (The Love Map, BBC, 2006) found that men are more likely to engage in extra-marital affairs than women, but also discovered that one in ten women admitted to be being unfaithful to their husbands.

A consequence of men's perceptions or suspicions of their wives’ sexual infidelity is sexual coercion or partner rape. Camilleri (2004) found that sexual assault of a female by her male partner was directly linked with the perceived risk of her infidelity.

The link between infidelity and partner violence is supported by the finding that the risk of a partner’s infidelity predicts sexual coercion among males, but not among females (Camilleri, 2004). This is significant because males, but not females, are at risk of cuckoldry, i.e. unwittingly investing resources in genetically unrelated offspring.

Buss (1988) suggests that males have a number of strategies that have evolved specifically for the purpose of keeping a mate, including ‘negative inducements’ in the form of violence or threats of violence to prevent her from straying. Because sexual jealousy is a primary cause of violence against women, those who are perceived by their partner to be threatening infidelity are more at risk of violence than those who are not.

Research supports the proposed link between sexual jealousy, mate- retention strategies and partner- directed violence. A US survey by Shackelford et al. (2005) found women reported that those partners who frequently used mate-retention tactics (such as vigilance and emotional manipulation) were the most likely to use violence against them.

IDA The majority of women cite sexual jealousy on the part of their male partner as the cause of his violence against them (Dobash and Dobash, 1984) The use of mate-retention strategies may therefore be seen as an early indication of potential violence against a female partner. Relationship counselling can then be sought before situation escalates into actual violence.

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