Psychology Essays On Aggression Lorenz

The Edexcel Specification also expects you to understand Freud's theories as an alternative to the biological explanation of individual differences. Parts of this page that are helpful for that are marked with the green Freud icon
The Specification also expects you to understand Freud's theories as an alternative to the biological explanation of development. Parts of this page that are important for that are marked with the blue Freud icon


Aggression can be viewed as an instinct. An instinct is an unreflective urge within members of a species that is present from birth (though it may get weaker or stronger later in life). Instincts can be restrained by willpower or training or encouraged by provocation and frustration.

The ethological perspective looks at the aggressive instinct in animals. The most famous ethologist studying aggression was Konrad Lorenz who defined aggression as:
the fighting instinct in beast and man which is directed against members of the same species - Konrad Lorenz (1966)
Why are cats cute when they're being aggressive?
A different perspective from Lorenz is the instinct theory of Sigmund Freud which I shall consider next. Freud agrees with Lorenz that aggression is an instinct and even that it may have its origins in evolution and the structure of the brain. However, he disagrees that it is a "survival trait". Quite the opposite: Freud thinks aggression is completely destructive and ultimately self-destructive.

Why do we do it then?
The ethological perspective is based on Darwin's Theory of Evolution. It says that human beings and other animals have evolved a "fighting instinct" to defend their territory, their mates and their offspring from rivals.

Some call this affective aggression, based on fear or anger. This is quite different from predatory aggression, which has evolved to acquire food. Egger & Flynn (1966) found different parts of the brain responsible for each.
Atavistic behaviour

Instinct theorists like Freud and Lorenz agree that aggression is a left-over from our "pre-cultural" past. It is atavistic, the behaviour of our ancestors. In other words, it's an animal-type behaviour we no longer need but we're stuck with.

In the animal kingdom, most aggression is based on display and rarely leads to death; one animal backs down and admits the other is dominant.
The overwhelming impression one gets from watching animal disputes is of remarkable restraint and self-control. The spilling of blood is not the norm, it is a rare event  - Morris (1990)
Human aggression isn't like that because we've developed weapons that massively boost our capacity for violence. Knives, guns and bombs mean that we kill our enemies before they have a chance to back down. So if the aggressive instinct was useful for us once, it isn't any longer.
Cathartic behaviour

Instinct theorists like Freud and Lorenz also suggest that releasing aggression is good for us. Releasing strong emotion in a healthy way is called catharsis and it produces a cleansing effect. This is why we always feel better inside after a good laugh or a good cry. Instinct theory says we also feel better after releasing aggression. In fact, by releasing aggression, we reduce the aggressive urges that were building up inside us, making us less likely to lose control.
Catharsis is one of the more controversial aspects of instinct theory. Even more so is the idea that we can release aggression through catharsis just by watching aggression - such as the audience in a boxing match or violent movie.
It's OK folks, it's cathartic!
This is called the "Hydraulic Model" of aggression. "Hydraulic" refers to the behaviour of water under pressure. The Model suggests that aggression is like steam in a kettle, boiler or pressure cooker. It builds up and up. Eventually it explodes - this is a violent outburst.

However, we can "let off steam" or "vent our aggression" in smaller, controlled doses - this is catharsis.
An obvious way of releasing aggression in a cathartic way is by taking part in a controlled aggressive activity - like a physical sport.

Catharsis doesn't have to involve violence. Even non-contact sports like tennis and athletics can vent our aggression. In fact, self-disciplined people can vent their aggression even through sports that don't have  great exertion, like golf or snooker. In fact, even board games can be cathartic.


Freud's theories are explained on a page of their own. This page adds some detail to link those theories to aggression.


The unconscious mind is the rest of the psyche that we are unaware of. It can be compared to the bulk of the iceberg that is out of sight under the water. This contains powerful aggressive urges that would frighten and shock us if we ever became consciously aware of them. Fortunately for us, they only appear in disguised form in dreams and "Freudian slips".
Most aggression comes from the UNCONSCIOUS. We're not aware of it or in control of it.
The conscious mind is that part of the mind we are aware of. It can be compared to the part of an iceberg that is above the water. It contains the thoughts we are currently thinking at any given moment. We might not have aggressive thoughts in our conscious mind at all but still be driven by aggressive urges that we're not aware of.

The pre-conscious mind is the part of the mind we are occasionally aware of. It can be compared to the part of the iceberg that is below the water-line but still visible. Aggression in dreams can be a clue to unconscious aggressive urges - but remember, dreams are always symbolic and not to be taken literally.


Freud described three parts of the mind that develop at different ages but are locked into conflict with each other.

The id

The id consists of urges and desires. The id isn't rational or reflective: it is made up entirely of feelings. The id exists entirely in the unconscious mind.
Because the id is based on "the pleasure principle", it doesn't understand logic. If the id is denied its pleasure, it becomes frustrated. This can lead to aggressive urges.
The id resembles the function of the limbic system in the human brain: this is the brain's "emotion centre" and the source of our appetites, fear and aggression.
The ego

The ego is the second part of the psyche that develops in toddlers. It exists within the conscious mind. It is based on "the reality principle" because it understands the outside world. The ego has no desires of its own. It's job is to find a way to grant the desires that come from the id.
The ego resembles the function of the pre-frontal cortex in the human brain: this is the brain's "decision-making centre" which handles messages from the limbic system and decides how to act on them.
However, the ego has no conscience, no sense of right and wrong. It understands punishment and will try to avoid that but it feels no guilt. The ego has no problem using aggression to get the id what it wants, so long as it thinks it will win.
So the ego might be responsible for deliberate, thought-out aggression - like threatening an intruder to get them to leave your house or some of the aggression in sport, like a rugby tackle.
The super-ego

The super-ego super-ego straddles the conscious and the unconscious mind: we're partly aware of it, partly not. It is based on "the morality principle" and acts as "the voice of conscience". It tells the ego whether its thoughts are morally acceptable or not. When the super-ego objects to the ego's thoughts, it generates guilt and shame.  The super-ego may restrict the ego from using aggression.
This links in the Mara Brendgen's observation that younger children use physical aggression but as they get older they switch to social aggression. Social aggression is less likely to offend the super-ego than physical aggression.
The super-ego makes us feel guilty about being aggressive. However, it also wants us to be punished. If someone acts aggressively and is repeatedly punished for it (by getting beaten and bruised - or arrested by police), then this might be the super-ego at work.
Here, there is a reversal of the usual situation: guilt precedes crime - Jones (1998)
Freudians disagree about whether aggression is caused by a weak super-ego (which doesn't forbid it) or a strong super-ego (which wants you to be punished). Freud thought a strong super-ego was to blame but his later followers thought a weak super-ego was a better explanation.


Freud's early theories suggested we were motivated by a sexual energy, a sort of life force called the libido. Aggression might be caused by the libido being misapplied or not properly controlled.

For example, aggression is produced by the id becoming frustrated, by the ego trying to get what the id wants or by the super-ego directing you to get into situations where you may be punished.

Later in his career, after the First World War and with another World War not far away, Freud suggested a different, darker interpretation.

Freud supposed that the id generated by a life-energy called "eros" (from the Greek word for love). This erotic energy drives us to reproduce sexually but it also drives us to be creative in other senses: to make friends, compose songs, build things, invent things, solve problems, work hard.

Opposing eros is a different force, the death energy of "thanatos" (from the Greek word for death).  This thanatic energy powers the ego in its efforts to hold back the id and resist its demands. Thanatos helps us show willpower and restraint (which is a good thing) but it also drives us to sabotage our lives, choose loneliness rather than happiness, mess up relationships and behave self-destructively.
Thanatos is responsible for aggression. This aggression is directed against ourselves but it can be projected outwards, to other people and our surroundings. However, catharsis is still possible if it can be channelled into constructive activities, like sport.


There are lots of defence mechanisms, but here are five that may link to aggression:
  • Repression: aggressive urges that are repressed drain the libido. Eventually, there is not enough energy to keep the aggression repressed and it explodes out (remember the hydraulic model?)
  • Denial: the conscious mind refuses to admit what it is doing; an example might be someone who insists they 'love' their wife or husband while abusing them
  • Projection: the super-ego's hostility is directed towards other people who seem to be acting on those same feelings; this often involves "blaming the victim" for provoking the aggression
  • Displacement: the id's urges are acted upon, but they are directed at a different target; this often happens with aggression, which can be targeted at someone or something else (a punchbag, a football, vandalism) rather than the real cause of your anger, and sport can be a form of displaced aggression
  • Sublimation: the id's urges are acted upon, but are transformed into something socially acceptable; aggression may be sublimated in sports that require control and finesse or in art or creativity

Defence mechanisms often project thanatos outwards, so that we harm other people and not ourselves.

One of Freud's most striking explanations of aggression - and a striking example of defence mechanisms - comes in the 1909 case study ofLittle Hans. This 5-year-old boy suddenly developed a phobia of horses. Freud diagnosed the Oedipus Complex. This is an emotional crisis experienced by young children (according to Freud) where they feel intense aggression towards their same-sex parent brought on by sexual jealousy over their opposite-sex parent. On an unconscious level, Little Hans wanted his father to die so that he (Hans) could have his mother to himself. Hans displaced these feelings onto horses, which were common animals back in 1909.
You don't need to know about the Oedipus Complex for the exam, but the 2-minute video sums the idea up along with an alternative theory.


Sexual Jealousy

Evolutionary psychology explains sexual jealousy in a simple way: we're biologically programmed to make sure our genes get passed on rather than someone else's. Freud has a far more complex explanation of sexual jealousy.

Obviously, sexual feelings come from the id, but they are strongly controlled by the super-ego. We learn sexual shame from our parents and from wider society, but the id's sexual needs are particularly strong and insistent. Most people, Freud believes, have far more colourful sexual needs than the ones that society allows (especially in Freud's lifetime, but even today people feel immense shame over sexual fantasies). This leads to conflict and unhappiness and some very unfortunate defence mecanisms.

Repression enables us to act "normal" but it is an immense drain on the thanatos energy in the psyche. Thanatos is also used to restrain other urges from the id, so if it is being used up repressing (for example) our homosexual feelings or attraction to our partner's best friend, there's less of it free to restrain aggressive impulses.

Displacement can cause us to take the frustration we feel from not being able to act on our sexual feelings and "take it out" on others - either our partner or other people who seem to take an interest in our partner.

Projection directs the hostility of the super-ego towards other people who seem to be acting on our own forbidden desires. This is the classic explanation for homophobia: people who are disturbed by their own homosexual desires become aggressive towards other people who act on those desires freely. It may explain jealousy; people who want to cheat become hyper-sensitive to any sgns that their partner might want to cheat.

The Oedipus Complex is the idea that, as children, we are sexually attracted to our own opposite-sex parent and feel jealousy and aggression towards our same-sex parent. As we grow up we repress these feelings, but they shape our relationships for the rest of our lives. All aggression in later life is really the displaced aggression we feel towards our mothers and fathers. Some of us "resolve" these feelings better than others, but since they are locked within the unconscious mind, only psychoanalysis can sort them out and bring us true peace of mind.
Freud's theory of the Oedipus Complex was explored in his famous case study of Little Hans, the boy with a phobia of horses. You may wish to study this because it gives a very different explanation of phobias from the one proposed by Watson & Rayner for Little Albert's fear of rats.
Social Aggression

Not all aggression is physical aggression. There is also teasing, name-calling, rumour-spreading socially excluding people. Social aggression has two components:

  • Indirect aggression, which is covert (hidden), such as spreading malicious gossip
  • Relational aggression, which is overt (in the open) but non-physical, such as breaking off a friendship, pulling faces or “bitchiness”

Gordon Ingram (2014)shows that young children show more physical aggression than social aggression, but, as they grow into adolescence, this reverses and social aggression (gossiping, rumour-spreading) dominates. Brendgen et al. (2015) considers this as part of the Biological Contemporary Study.

For Freud, the difference between physical and social aggression is that social aggression comes from defence mechanisms because the super-ego won't allow us to act out physical aggression. This explains why social aggression increases in school-age children, because the super-ego develops around the age they start school.

Most social aggression is displacement, because the child is taking out its aggression upon other children, but the real target is the child's parent (or teacher). There is also sublimation going on, because the aggression is showing itself in more socially acceptable ways.

Projection is also an important defence mechanism in bullying. The bully may fear being an unloved outsider and so feels hostility towards other outsiders. People who seem isolated and vulnerable remind the bully of their own feelings of isolation and vulnerability, which they hate.

Twins will always have unusual relationships with their parents compared to ordinary brothers and sisters. They may compare themselves to one another and be sensitive to any suggestion that one is loved more than the other. This may be especially true of identical twins. If Freud's theory of the Oedipus Complex is true, twins may be more likely to share unresolved issues with their parents than other children. This is a different explanation for the findings ofBrendgen et al.'s study into twins than Brendgen's genetic explanation for aggression.
You can see that Freud's explanations of aggression go much deeper than the biological explanations in terms of genes and brain structure: they focus on feelings, relationships and our sense of who we are. But is there any truth to them?



Freud's idea of the instinctive id and the rational ego links in with the neuroscience of the brain. The limbic system is the brain's "emotion centre" and the amygdala specifically handles fear and aggression. The pre-frontal cortex handles rational decision-making and receives messages from the amygdala, which it may or may not act upon.

Stephanie Gorka et al. (2013) used MRI scans to study activity between the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala. She showed that alcohol interferes with the brain's ability to pass information between the two. This also backs up Freud's idea that one part of the psyche generates aggression and another part decides what to do about it.
Catharsis is a matter of ordinary experience - many people do feel calmer and more at ease after venting aggression on the sports field, in the gym or over a game of Dungeons & Dragons.
Catharsis in the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" episode of "Community"
It is often argued that banning pornography would lead to an increase in sexual violence against women. The idea is that pornography is cathartic for some men. This is a controversial view, however - see below!

Other psychologists have offered very different interpretations of the Oedipus Complex and unconscious thanatos. People may have had biological problems (like Charles Whitman's brain tumour which might have caused him to go on his murdering spree). Little Hans' phobia of horses could be explained using classical conditioning - the way Watson & Rayner created Little Albert's fear of white rats.

Freud's concept of catharsis has come under particular attack. There are some examples of venting aggression leading to calm, but plenty of counter-examples. Couples who have blazing rows ought to be less likely to use violence if shouting and swearing were cathartic; in reality, couples who argue are more likely to be physically abusive too.

Albert Bandura in his 1961 study makes a big point of the fact that the children who observed the aggressive role models displayed more aggression themselves, not less. This goes against what catharsis would suggest.
The Edexcel Specification expects you to be able to compare and contrast the biological/evolutionary explanation of aggression with the psychodynamic explanation.
The biological/evolutionary view of aggression supports the nativist (nature) view of aggression. On the other hand, the psychodynamic view supports nature and nurture.

According to Freud, we are born with a psyche that has certain in-built drives and desires. Later in his career, Freud defined these as eros and thanatos. This makes an aggressive instinct part of our nature.

However, Freud also argues that we are shaped by our childhood experiences, especially our relationship with our parents. This nurture decides which defence mechanisms we adopt and they go on to decide our personality and how we display aggression towards other people and ourselves.

Another similarity between the two approaches is the focus on child development. Freud argues that children develop the id first and then the ego, but the super-ego doesn't develop until age 5. Biological psychology also suggests that babies use their right brains extensively but then the left brain develops language and logical faculties, but these aren't fully developed until about age 5. After this age, physical aggression becomes less common and social aggression more common, as noticed by Mara Brendgen.

There's a similar connection between the limbic system, which functions rather like the id because it generates basic desires and emotions, including aggression. The pre-frontal cortex functions like the ego because it makes the decision what to do about the emotions generated by the limbic system, such as aggression or fear coming from the amygdala.

Both approaches draw similar conclusions about aggression. They see it as a necessary behaviour. From an evolutionary perspective, aggression is part of a species' fitness to survive. Freud sees it as part of the thanatos instinct that restrains the id. The problem comes when aggression is not properly controlled or directed. Then it becomes a danger to the aggressor and to others nearby.

The main application of Freud's theories is the therapy called psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis can help treat aggression by exploring the unconscious causes of aggression. The psychoanalyst helps the client explore their own dreams and childhood memories and work out what they mean. Hopefully, the client will learn about the defence mechanisms they are using and the unresolved conflicts going on in their unconscious. They may come to self-knowledge.
The main criticism of psychoanalysis as a cure for aggression is that it is time-consuming, expensive and not at all certain to work. Since it is not scientifically-based, it is difficult to measure how effective it is and whether or not it is working for any particular client.

An alternative therapy, based on the Cognitive Approach, is Anger Management. In contrast, Anger Management is much more scientifically-based, has an effect within weeks or months rather than years and has measurable outcomes.

On the other hand, if it does work psychoanalysis does much more than just reduce aggressive behaviour. The client may discover a sort of inner peace that will help them in all sorts of ways as well as just managing their temper: psychoanalysis offers to improve relationships, unlock creativity and sporting potential and bring relief from anxiety, guilt, nightmares and emotional pain that might go all the way back to childhood.

How to write an 8-mark answer

Evaluate the biological explanation of aggression. In your evaluation you must make at least one comparison with the psychodynamic explanation of aggression.
  • An 8-mark “compare” question awards 4 marks for describing the biological theory of aggression (AO1) and 4 marks for evaluating it (AO3). You need a conclusion to get a mark in the top band (7-8 marks).

Evolutionary theory is based on the idea of descent with modification. Parents pass on characteristics to their offspring and natural selection means that the fittest characteristics survive and become commonplace.
This explains aggression because aggressive behaviour has survival value if it helps a creature defend itself or defend its mate and offspring.
This can be seen in the "fight or flight" response which is regulated by the amygdala. The brain increases dopamine and lowers serotonin levels in preparation for threat.
The amygdala controls our reaction to threat, producing either fear or aggression. The pre-frontal cortex receives messages from the amygdala and controls our decision making about whether to act on these feelings.

The Theory of Evolution is a respectable scientific theory with a lot of supporting evidence. It underlies the Animal Model, which is the idea we can generalise from animal studies to humans.
However, psychodynamic theory is much less scientific, since it is based on case studies and Freud's interpretation. Freud rejects animal studies, because they do not tell us what makes us uniquely human.
There are similarities because the biological approach locates aggression in one part of the brain (the amygdala) and rational thought in another (the pre-frontal cortex).
Freud also locates aggression in one part of the psyche (the unconscious) and rational thought in another (the conscious mind).

Both theories explain aggression but the invention of brain imaging techniques like PET gives the biological approach much more empirical evidence to support it, whereas psychodynamic theory is too subjective..

  • Notice that for an 8-mark answer you don’t have to include everything about biology or Freud. I haven’t mentioned the other parts of the limbic system, testosterone or the importance of catharsis. But it is a balanced answer - one half description and one half comparison. I've also made my ENTIRE evaluation into a comparison with Freud, but you would not have to do that.

Aggression Revision:

Exam essay plans

Q1. Outline and evaluate two social psychological theories of aggression (e.g. social learning theory, deindividuation)

Theory 1.

• Social learning theory= originated from work of Gabriel Tarde (1912) Learning= relatively permanent change in behaviour due to experience.

• Classical behaviourism= direct experience (classical/operant conditioning)/ • Neo-behaviourism= indirect/vicarious experience (observational)

• Theory claims we learn aggression primarily through observation of significant people around us= Modelling people who are similar (age/sex) or higher status (parent/teacher)

Key characteristics of Imitation:

1. Behaviour of role models

2. Copying behaviour of a higher status

3. Degree of contact with role model

4. Degree of understanding of the behaviour

• Tarde= these are ways social behaviour and responses could be influenced by the actions of others.

• Tarde combines both logic of social/cognitive psychology in social cognitive perspective of human behaviour-= behaviour motivated by inherent psychological factors/ socio-environmental factors:

• Individual and social environment linked= reciprocal determinism

SLT consists of four basic processes:

1. Attention= observation- watching the behaviour

2. Retention= cognitive process schema- storing the behaviour

3. Reproduction= behaviour- copying behaviour

4. Motivation= state- having reason for displaying behaviour


• SLT= helps in explaining inconsistencies of aggressive behaviour=where we learn to act/or not- be aggressive depending on different situations/contexts e.g. aggressive + domineering at home/ meek + submissive at work.

• Explanation of SLT based on research= ‘Bobo doll studies’

KEY STUDY-Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961)

Experiment firstly involved: 72 child participants= different groups of children: experimental group –witnessed adult model kick/punch Bobo doll/ control group- witnessed non-aggressive behaviour = After- different groups were put into the toy room with Bobo doll- their behaviour was observed.

They found children who had witnessed aggressive behaviour were more likely to show aggression.

Methodological issues:

Experiment had a well-defined way of coding the behavioural responses of the children to a measurable outcome.

Laboratory research- artificial setting/lacks ecological validity

Children’s behaviour- may have produced demand characteristics (wanting to ‘please the experimenter’)

Ethical issues:

Confidentiality- names of those involved maintained private- but films widely available on internet of experiment suggest compromise of confidentiality

Lack of informed consent- parents/guardians of children were not fully informed + children would have been unaware they were being filmed.



Study has face validity to explain children copying through imitating role models/ the media influence on aggression- such as influence of behaviour from t.v. personalities/ celebrities: e.g. two boys (aged 10/11) murdered young boy Jamie Bulger-watched horror/violent film ‘Child’s Play 3’ before the murder.

Bandura’s research focuses society’s attention on the power of the media- in areas of aggression and other related areas e.g. health (anorexia/bulimia)


Criticism of imposed etic/generalisibility- by assuming that processes of learning are the same for people in all countries/cultures universally.

Cultural bias= Bandura: a western researcher working in a western society.

Deterministic approach- to suggest child would passively absorb the observed behaviour and imitate it without logical thought for the implication of it.

Theory 2.: Deindividuation

Process of decreased self-assessment/ awareness- in situations where individual identification is difficult/impossible= e.g. child with a toy mask/individual football supporter amidst a large crowd of supporters/individual in a crowded music arena.

Situations were individual identification is restricted ensures changes in the normal standards of behaviour/ inhibitions are lowered-

Singer, Brush and Lublin (1965): Group situation->Inhibitions reduced-> Change in normal standards of behaviour/anti-social behaviour:

Milgram (1964/1965) – study of the situational determinants of destructive obedience= found participants were more likely to give higher levels of electrical shocks when they could not see/be seen by their victim.

Similar to this study: Zimbardo (1969)- study showed the effect of reduced inhibitions:

He used female undergraduate participants in a ‘study of learning’. The female participants play teacher/ a stooge is used to play student. ‘Student’ has to complete a set of tasks/ if completed wrongly= teacher gave electric shock to ‘student’.

Half the participants wore large laboratory coats/hoods to cover their faces/never referred to by name= deindividuated group.

Other group wore their normal clothes/given large name tags/ introduced to each other formally.

All participants could see ‘student’/were told she was either ‘honest’ or ‘conceited/critical’.

Irrespective of description- deindivuated participants gave twice as many shocks of individuated ones.


Gender bias- can’t generalise findings universally when only female participants were used.

Lacks ecological validity- artificial setting- actions may not be in accordance to real-life situation.

Ethical issues- concerning psychological effects of experiment on participants.

Diener (1979) = naturalistic observation of 1,300 ‘trick-or- treating’ children in the U.S. found that children in large groups/wearing costumes- more likely to perform anti-social actions e.g. stealing money/sweets. – the group ‘reduces the possibility of personal identification’- behaviour may deviate from normal moral standards Limitations:

Fundamental problem of this theory= doesn’t provide explanation for the fact- not all crowds/groups perform aggressive actions:

Evidence linked to deindividuation and anti-social behaviour- but evidence also suggests deindividuation may lead to ‘prosocial’ behaviour=

Gergen et al. (1973)- study in which lowered levels of individuation didn’t result in aggressive actions= in a dark room – most participants were involved in intimate contact/at least half cuddled/ about 80% of the group felt sexually aroused.

Saying aggression is caused by lowering one’s inhibitions is narrow/deterministic:

Postmes and Spears (1998)= meta-analysis of over 60 studies investigating deindividuation= no consistent research to support argument- reduced inhibitions/anti-social behaviour more likely to be seen in large groups/crowded situations where anonymity is maintained. = They suggest behaviour change of individuals in large groups- more influence from ‘group norms’.

Relating this theory to groups e.g. football hooliganism is too stereotypical: Marsh et al. (1978)= found what might appear to be an anti-social group actually consist of several different groups-with different places in the status ‘hierarchy’/ aggression was highly ritualised rather than physically violent. Evaluation:

Challenges:  Runciman (1966)= argues aggressive behaviour could be due to one’s relative deprivation- perceived difference between what you have and what you think you should have.

Dollard et al. (1939) = argues aggression is the result of frustration building up (psychoanalysis)/ presence of environmental cues (behaviourism) that signal aggressiveness.

Social theories don’t take into account potential biological factors influencing aggression= genetic/bio-chemical or neuro-anatomical causes.

Q2. Outline and evaluate research relating to group display of aggression in humans.

Psychologists /sociologists interested in how crowds operate

2 disciplines differ in how they explain crowd disorder:

Sociologists focus on role of the media as ‘amplifier’ of anti-social behaviour

Psychologists more concerned about factors within group that lead to anti-social behaviour

Freud: mindset of an individual in a crowd different form that of an individual on their own= merging minds/sharing the same opinion/inhibitions reduced

Methodological flaws: didn’t follow hypothetico-deductive method

Influence from the group: Freud criticised – idea ‘group’ had a soul of its own:

Le Bon (1896)= ‘pathological’ viewpoint:

Crowd behaviour the result of individuals’ personalities

Atmosphere of a group causes contagion- ‘group members fall under the influence of a collective mind’

Group members are suggestible/views of group/imitating others ‘group mind’

Blummer (1939)= circular reaction causes individuals to reproduce behaviours/emotions-which intensifies/amplifies.

Convergence theory/ emergent norm theory

Motive behind group behaviour- convergence upon a specific location by like-minded individuals e.g. football crowd

Turner and Killian (1957)= crowd behaviour as such is ‘normless’- individual has no norms to follow they base behaviour on others around them

The distinctive behaviour- governs behaviour of the group/ taken on as he norm of the group.


Convergence theory= View dictates that crowds aren’t a passive group of people- they’re a logically thinking mass of individuals  View doesn’t help to explain unpredictable crowd behaviour- because its governed by the norms identified/ accepted by the group

Theory focuses more on how individuals are rational/ the formation of crowd/ behaviour can be seen as rational/logical – more focused on irrational forces- contrasts to contagion theories.

Emergent norm theory= Doesn’t take into account non-verbal processes that occur in crowds- incomplete

Criticised for not explaining how norms might emerge

Berk (1974)= behaviour that looks irrational (crowd running out of building) may be rational (building on fire)

Value-added theory- Neil Smelser (1963)= • Certain prerequisites (situations/conditions) are needed in order for a group /social movement to develop: stages he suggested were:

Stage 1. Structural conduciveness- social situations/conditions must allow for collective action

Stage 2. Structural strain- parts of social system don’t function effectively

Stage 3. Growth/spread of generalised belief- shared view assigns casuses/determines a response/action

Stage 4. Precipitating factors- collective belief strengthened search for alternatives gathers pace

Stage 5. Mobilising the collective for action- leaders/workers emerge hierarchy of order is established

Stage 6. Reaction of agencies of social control- attempt to interfere the collective operation

Smelser argues social life/processes we follow within it affect how individuals behave=

If society offers incentives/rewards that the individual is interest in- they may not think carefully about how they achieve the goal


Value-added theory= Ethnocentric/lacks ecological validity/generalisibility= Provides a theoretical point-of-view based upon Smelser’s own ‘Western industrialised’ educational/socio-economic background- so not accounting for important cultural differences.

Logical theory- but doesn’t take into account the complexities of crowd behaviour- theory difficult to test- Berk (1974) – “crowd events occur with great speed, are difficult to anticipate…”


Elements from these theories can help to explain crowd behaviour- Hockling (1982)

With groups e.g. lynch mobs= Zimbardo (2007)= argues dehumanisation is crucial to understanding ‘man’s inhumanity to man’:

Inhuman aggression of lynch mobs in USA- torture/violent murder of black people was not seen as a crime against humanity- it was seen across USA as a result of black people’s stigmatisation as ‘niggers’ so they weren’t seen as individuals= Ginzberg (1988)

Most theories fail to acknowledge actions of positive crowd behaviour- Cassidy et al. (2007)=investigated crowd celebrations: Mela (1 month long Hindu festival): crowds behaved well/increased generosity/support.

Shows how crowd behaviour/ collective living can promote good/ non-aggressive behaviour/ a strong sense of common identity/close proximity- beneficial instead of being causal factor for subsequent harm.

Q3. Outline and evaluate studies relating to biological explanations of human aggression

Assumption that aggression is caused by internal factors (rather than external)

Influences summarised as:

Genetic influences

Biochemical influences: hormones; the neurotransmitter serotonin

Brain structure influences

Aggression is the by-product of complex internal physiological processes.

Genetic factors

Researchers approached investigation of genetic factors in aggression primarily through twin and adoptions studies= to try and establish whether aggression- a product of inherited characteristic (nature) or environmental influences (nurture) KEY STUDY- Rhee and Waldman (2002)-

Meta-analysis of 51 twin and adoption studies = 87,000 individuals.

Anti-social behaviour operationalised in terms of:

Psychiatric diagnoses-e.g. anti-social personality disorder


Behavioural aggression

Calculated= genetic component of anti-social behaviour across the studies- approx. 40%

Environmental contribution approx. 60%


Self-report used in meta-analysis- limits reliability= as differences found as:

Self-report individuals = assessed genetic component at 39%/ individuals assessed by another person= 53%

Difficult to separate genetic/environmental effects in twin studies- MZ twins have more similar environmental experiences.

Theory 1.

Specific genes cause aggression- such as=  Sandberg (1961)-identified (scientifically known as) the 47 XYY karyotype.

Court-Brown’s research (1965 and 1967)- found that of a sample of 314 patients- those with XYY would be ‘best hospitalised due to an increased likelihood of aggressive behaviour’= statement not substantiated with evidence.

Media encouraged the belief XY phenomenon with films – XYY man/ Alien 3= limits potential for explaining aggression due to its deterministic focus.

Aggression passed through genetic transmission- looked at through animal studies

Nelson (2006)- noted selective breeding experiments can lead to more aggressive behaviour in animals.

Theory supported by Cairns (1983)- in study of mice.

Observational animal research has= Methodological issues:

Evidence helps researchers to create more informed models

Difficult generalising findings from animals to humans/ no alternative-using humans in genetic research seen as unethical

Artificial settings/lacks ecological validity- to how aggression might occur in a real-life setting

Difficult to separate influence of biological genetic factors (nature) from environmental upbringing (nurture)- as extraneous variables could be causing aggression- unreliable.

KEY STUDY: Theilgaard (1984)

She examined personality traits of a sample-XYY men compared these to a sample of XY men and XXY men(thought to be more feminine)

Focused on levels of aggressiveness between 2 groups

Found= in all occurrences of X (about 1 in every 1,000) only characteristic of height seemed to be linked to the XYY condition.

Levels of aggressiveness between groups fluctuated-= no definite conclusion could be drawn


Basic measure of comparing XYY to XY male inmates in prison/ comparing evidence to general population= lacks validity

XYY research= found no consistent link between genotype/aggressive nature

Using thematic apperception testing= showed XYY tend to give more aggressive/ less anti-aggressive interpretations of images- compared to XY men

Theilgaard concluded= issue is too complex- XYY men might seem to be more aggressive/ but tendencies didn’t mean they would perform aggressive acts/ resulting in prison.

Hormonal influences:

Hormones influence many parts of our lives:

Court cases have shown that hormonal fluctuation-woman’s pre-menstrual tension can be used as grounds for claims of temporary insanity- to reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter= R v Smith (1979) 3 All ER 605,611 (CA)

Nelson (1995)- reviewed research into how hormones influence aggressive behaviour= seems to be a positive correlation between level of androgens circulating in the body and aggressive behaviour in female/male prisoners.

Methodological issues:

Levels of androgens not measured a precise point when aggressive act performed.

Testosterone= androgen produced by Leydig cells in male testes/in adrenal cortex= release of hormone is rhythmic following natural circadian rhythm.

Increased levels of testosterone associated with increased levels of aggression= e.g. during puberty aggression increases when androgen levels are higher.

Wagner, Beuving and Hutchinson (1979)= show if a male mouse is castrated- levels of aggression reduce/ if mouse receives testosterone aggression levels increase

Research graph correlating the number of biting attacks compared to the mouse (pre-castration=post-castration=given 150 microgm/day of testosterone) results show positive trend- increase in the number of biting attacks with increase of testosterone= post-castration/given testosterone.

Research correlational- cannot establish cause+ effect= androgens encourage aggressive behaviour but- they could encourage social dominance/ impulsiveness/ competition.

Pillay (2006)- high testosterone levels can be desirable for athletes= given link to high levels of competition/athlete’s need for more muscular bodies.

Simpson (2001

“testosterone is only one myriad of factors that influence aggression and the effects of environmental stimuli have at times been found to correlate more strongly”

Other environmental factors e.g. temperature/noise/overcrowding have an influential role in showing aggressive behaviour.

Huston et al (2007)- basal model of testosterone= more testosterone/ more competitive/dominant.

Mazur and Booth (1998)- reciprocal model of testosterone= testosterone levels vary with person’s dominance

It is the effect not cause

Study= 2,100 air force veterans- over 10 year period- four medical examinations Methodological issues:

No peer review- essential in validity of research

Longitudinal study- increased amount of data

Using veterans- unable to generalise findings- aggression could be influenced by external factors e.g. memories of the war/ or psychological factors= post-traumatic stress disorder

Neural factors

Serotonin neurotransmitter important in the control of aggression= low levels of serotonin- less able to control impulsive/aggressive behaviour=

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine- 5HT)= Lenard (2008)-

“low serotonin levels in the brain can result in impulsive behaviour/aggression/overeating/depression/alcohol abuse/violent suicide”.

Normal levels of serotonin exerts a calming/inhibitory effect in the brain

= Cases (1995) Serotonin + aggression

Davidson, Putnam and Larson (2000)= suggested role of serotonin-‘inhibitory function’ of aggressive tendencies:

Compared violent criminals to non-violent= low levels of serotonin in violent criminals.

Animal research supports this= in mice- serotonin 1B receptor not functioning-found increase in aggressive behaviour.

Tame domestic animals have higher levels of serotonin.

Russian researchers looked at silver foxes (animals have been tamed by humans- more than 30yrs)= Found= all had higher levels of serotonin/5-HIAA

Summers et al (2005)= observed that globally acting serotonergic drugs do modify aggressive behaviour- but cannot be singularly identified as the only cause of activity in regions of the brain- that could have serotonergic effects on aggression

Mann et al. (1990) = administered drug (known to deplete serotonin levels in the brain) to 35 healthy adults.

Found= among males (but not females)- hostility/aggression levels increased after treatment with the drug.


Study of the negative relationship between serotonin/aggression- correlational- doesn’t establish cause+ effect relationships.

Ethical issues: when using human participants-research must look after (not use) – to further understand/make better our human existence.

Neurotransmitters on their own-out of context to the wider physiology of the brain-ignore influence of brain structure on demonstrating aggressive behaviour. Brain structure/damage

Hypothalamus/amgydala associated with aggressive responses:

Bard and Mountcastle (1953)- looked at ‘rage’ in cats caused by detachment of higher/lower brain through lesioning=

Concluded: hypothalamus initiates aggressive behaviour/cerebral cortex reduces behaviour.

Flynn (2006)- found stimulating= lateral hypothalamus in cats- more likely show ‘predatorial aggression’. = medial hypothalamus-more likely to show ‘vicious attack behaviour’.

Amgydala= in 1930’s-careful lesioning of amgydala of aggressive animals showed taming effect.= harming/causing dysfunction to animal is unethical

Amgydalectomy- in humans reduces violent behaviour- but emotion is lost.

Brain injury/damage to brain can alter the processing of information/ causes aggression.

Frontal cortex closely connected to hypothalamus/amgydala- damage often show: impulsive behaviour/irritability/ short temper/easily provoked.

Phineas Gage- railway worker- a tamping iron- entered left side of his face= passed through jaw/up+ behind left eye/ exited through top of his head- he survived for 11 years after:

Noticeable changes in persona- formerly quiet/hard-working/shrewd character turned to very negative/aggressive individual – after result of brain injury.

Convincing- but case study- one person- generalisibility limited/ relying on accuracy of medical notes made in 1868 by Harlow (Gage’s physician).

Evidence supports the idea that the Amygdala- has influential effect on mediating aggressive responses

Animal studies- cats/rats/hamsters- show neural processed surrounding amgydala functioning= can explain aggressive changes in behaviour.

Methodological issues:

Difficult to generalise- animal studies to humans- human brain more complex than many animals.

Potegal et al. (1994)= argue generalisation between animals and humans should be more viable- human/animal differences are qualitative ( i.e. basics the same/ details different):

Underlying neural circuitry related to emotional expression seems more similar- allowing for more avenues of generalisation.

Blair et al. (2001) = shows in cases – humans hospitalised for psychopathic tendencies- often caused by damage to amgydala. Supported by various findings in non-human animals.


Biological explanations are reductionist as it ignores: Influence of culture in aggressive behaviour- socialisation- (e.g. Arapesh tribe= Mead (1935)

Aggression learned through observation of various forms of media- Freedman (2002)

Situational factors- e.g. temperature/overcrowding/noise • Showing of aggression may simply be result of frustration- ultimately becomes aggressive actions through the identification of aggressive cues in environment.

Q4. Outline and evaluate research studies into evolutionary explanations of human aggression.

Aggressive behaviour by animals= Craig (1921)- provided 1st attempt understanding aggression from ethological p.o.v.- since Darwin’s work- late 1800’s

Craig- made clear- that animals- ‘even when the animal does fight, he aims not to destroy enemy, but only get rid of his presence and interference’ = Van Der Dennen (2005)

Lorenz (1966)-ethologist- stressed humans are animals- show similar behaviour patterns to animals: •

Four main drivers behind behaviour of animal= fear/reproduction/hunger/aggression.

Functions of aggression=

Help to ensure fittest/strongest were selected (females select male- who offer greatest survival- form them/offspring)

Ensure survival of young (parents show aggression- protecting offspring)

Help to distribute a species in balanced way- animals have own territories

Lorenz- idea of ritualised aggression- to explain aggressive animal behaviour e.g. stags rutting

Analysis furthered- stating animals know when to stop being aggressive (few ever kill enemy)=

Gross (1998)- jackdaw behaviour= 2 jackdaws about to attack each other- if 1 displays- appeasement tactic – (showing a behaviour indicating defeat/submission)- the other jackdaw wont attack

Lorenz- criticised by other ethologists/academics:

Lehrman (1953)- questions whether correct to make comparisons between species/assume findings for animals to humans- suggest even though 2 behaviours seem similar- cant assume underlying mechanisms the same.

Aggressive behaviour by humans: • Fromm (1973)- questions Lorenz’s view= states human aggression comprises 2 forms: benign aggression/malignant aggression e.g. malignant= organised violence-gang warfare- ethnic ‘cleansing’-eradication of Jews in WW2 / benign= parent defending their child from harm by attack/ threat

Nelson (1974)- states Lorenz misses 3 basic factors that can affect aggression:

Process of learning: Bandura shows people may learn aggressive behaviour through observation

Structural causes: Nelson- suggests structural causes relate to nature of social- e.g. society without norms/rules- aggression likely to spread

Psychological causes of aggression: highlight failings of biological approach= in animal kingdom-aggressive action directed to ‘actual enemy’- threat/challenge. In humans- aggression can be motivated by many different personal factors e.g. mood/feelings + situational factors e.g. heat/overcrowding

In some cases of human aggression- victims aren’t seen as fellow humans= Fromm (1964)/ Erikson (1956)- might be case in situations of unprovoked random attacks:

Rapoport (1965)- suggests ‘man by virtue of his ability to manipulate symbols, attaches the label ‘enemy’ to entire categories of things: other animals, other people, even inanimate objects and ideas…accordingly aggression ceases to be leads by the situation.’

Differences between animal and human aggression:

Human aggression= might be adaptive/useful i.e. product of evolution

Use of weapons means aggression is destructive/not ritualistic:

Tinbergen (1968)-suggest humans only species- aggression not part of ritualistic system e.g. mating- but is rooted in desire to harm another.

Evolutionary explanations of human aggression

Acts of terrorists e.g. 9/11 or ware in general= explained through Tinbergen’s ideas/evolutionary theory= as advances in weapon technology distancing means that aggressor doesn’t need to be physically close to the recipient of aggression:

Means that appeasement/distress signals that would stop acts of aggression no longer apply e.g. plane crews who are eager to drop bombs on ‘targets’- would not be eager to stab/burn children/adults with their own hands

Krueger et al. (2002)- evolutionary approach concerned with how skills/methods of dealing with environment have evolved into behaviours used in today’s society=

Many evolutionary changes seen in Pleistocene era- since then evolution has been static- Brody et al. (2004)

Evolutionary psychologists believe- series of psychological mechanisms affect behaviour/don’t vary much between individuals- universal= they think behaviour witnessed linked to reproductive success of individual= likely to suggest aggression is result of sexual competition:

Females invest in parental issues e.g. time/energy/food etc.

Males compete for females- to pass on their genes= ensure reproductive success:

Kenrick, Trost and Sheets (1996).

Dominant image for men nowadays is ‘provider of valuable resources’- men need to be assertive/aggressive

Waller (2002)- applied approach to explain mass killings/genocide= humans have evolved living in groups- need to define boundaries- formulating ‘in’ group (us) and ‘out’ group (them)= likely to result in aggression.

Could be caused by ancestral past- xenophobia- need for people to feel socially dominant= holding ethnocentric perspectives- lead to acts of aggression/violence

Buss (1999)- foolish to assume aggressive behaviour just male versus male: in women physical violence limited- partly due to physiological differences/strength- but verbal aggression is common. Female to female verbal aggression- often aimed at reducing ‘attractiveness’ of competitors- in eyes of males= strategy – evolutionary advantage for ‘name-caller’

Influence of infidelity on aggressive behaviour

Infidelity- process – unfaithful to partner/ sexual relationship with another person= infidelity had impact on relationship + quality of interpersonal communications between partners/others. •

Psychologists argue- act of infidelity triggers emotional state within individual- as perceived threat to relationship/current status quo:

Buss, Larsen, Western and Semmelroth (1992)- argue- would naturally lead to show behaviours to reduce/ eliminate threat e.g. act of violence/aggression •

Sexual infidelity for men/women- triggers sexual jealousy= psychologists suggest cues/ triggers are different for males/females:   Brunk et al. (1996)- suggest from male’s p.o.v- infidelity by female- brings uncertainty of paternity- profound sexual jealousy/ For female who becomes pregnant after act of infidelity- associated sexual jealousy influenced not by parental uncertainty- but lack of time/economic resources- given to her/ offspring by her mate. = lack of emotional support that makes women aggression/ men’s anger/subsequent aggression- based upon suspicion of wife’s infidelity

Evolutionary psychologists- look at infidelity from male and female perspectives to avoid gender bias into their research into explanations of aggression

Influence of jealousy -n ot unusual to witness violence/ acts of aggression influenced by jealousy= Harvey, Sprecher and Wenzer (2004)

Cascardi and Vivian (1995)- participants asked explain cause of aggression in relationship- jealousy most commonly attributed cause

Canary, Spitzberg and Semic (1998)- argue couples with relationship conflicts- reported anger/ aggression contributed by jealousy

Violent males lack effective ways of mediating/ responding to situation of jealousy/ compared to non-violent males- Holtzworth- Monroe and Anglin (1991).

Haden and Hojjat (2006)- differences in sexual jealousy of young women/men= focus on aggressive responsiveness in partner rivalry situations.

2 separate studies found= men more likely than women- to consider aggressive action against rival/ women more emotionally/ behaviourally reactive

In USA- Morenz and Lane (1996)-

Evolutionary theory- explains jealousy as desire to keep one’s mate= males have tendency to show mate tending/guarding activities – aggressive activities to avoid sexual infidelity- Buss and Shackelford (1997)/ females display behaviours less frequently.

Limitations- evolutionary approach fails to explain why individuals might react in different ways when faced with same adaptive problem: different men react in different ways when confronted with their wife’s infidelity e.g. violence, debasement, or avoiding issue (by getting drunk)

Cultural differences- fails to explain why some cultures seem to require male violence to attain social status/ other cultures (peaceful)- aggression leads to irreparable damage to reputation of the aggressor= Buss and Shackelford (1997)

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