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The Concept of Control of Human Aggression

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Human aggression is a subject of interest not only in the social sciences but also in other fields of the academe. Although there is a common definition of what human aggression is, there are different views regarding its causes. It follows also that there are different approaches to its control which range from increasing a person’s capacity for self control, the use of corporal punishment to the use of prescribed drugs.

Although human aggression as the cause of social problems has persisted, it has never before caught the full focus of various sectors as it has today, when we are faced with daily occurrences of violence and crime and also become victims/witnesses to such forms of aggression as terrorism. It is important then for us to have an understanding of human aggression, its causes and concepts/methods of its control.

What is human aggression?

Human aggression consists of conscious acts of violence inflicted by a single person/group on another unwilling person/group necessarily as a means to certain ends. These acts may take various forms: psychological (to coerce a person to do what one wants using threats to life), political (to maintain the stability of a ruling political party through repression of dissent), cultural (to preserve the dominance of an ethnic group through the obliteration of actual cultural practices of the minority group) or economic (imposing an embargo on another nation which one perceives as an ideological threat).

Hence, the degree of violence in acts of aggression as quantified in the actual damages or number of victims vary and may depend on the level of organization in society at which these acts are committed.

Aggression has also been dichotomized in various ways: as predetermined or as impulsive behavior, as instrumental, relational or hostile, as passive or active. Whatever, the type, the prevalence of aggressive acts depends on the availability of control measures (such as mitigating policies and programs of government, the educational/religious institutions, in the family, social norms), how resolutely these are imposed and how effective these measures are on the ground. It is imperative that the study of human aggression also result in the identification of appropriate methods of control. To determine these, one has to root out the causes of aggression.

What are the causes of human aggression?

Aggressive acts may be caused by personal differences such as the interplay between personal tendencies (as a product of heredity), physiological state and one’s socio-cultural environment, particularly in early childhood – exposure to aggressive acts, process of identity formation, family structure and religious beliefs as well as experiences later on in life.

There are also social factors that determine aggression. Gender inequality and racial/cultural discrimination creates a superior group over another. Economic and political position in society may also affect one’s resort to aggressive acts. For instance, there is a positive correlation between poverty and crime rate. In social conflict, the dominant social class uses force to quell opposition to them while the subjugated class may use the same to advance their interests (McGraw Hill Sci-Tech Encyclopedia 2005; Martinez 2001; Kornadt 2002).

There are also those that hold the view that aggression is part of human nature, a product of the residual “fight or flight” instinct in the process of our evolution. Controversy in the past decades was created by the biological-instinctual and frustration-aggression theories which generally saw aggression as instinctual. Aggression is regarded as a drive in similar fashion as the drives for our basic needs that need to be satisfied (e.g hunger – food) or that aggression is the natural response of persons when they are frustrated from reaching their goals.

That there are specific biological conditions, particularly regarding our hormones, nerve impulses and brain, that increase or decrease the tendency towards aggressive behavior has also interested researchers in genetics and in the fields of psychopathology, neuroendocrinology, neurochemistry and neuroanatomy.

At present, the majority view among researchers and the academe is that motivation behind even a single act of aggression is complex and can be due to a number of factors. This view has been concretized in linkages among research institutions and the creation of multidisciplinary research organizations focusing on this area.

The Concept of Control

The concepts of control of human aggression are methods of intervening in acts of aggression already being committed, its prevention or the modification of aggressive behavior into more positive outcomes. These evolve out of existing theories on the causes of aggressive behavior itself. This can range from As such, there is no universal concept of the control of aggression but are mostly based on particular relationships (parent-child), particular situations (war), particular settings (schools) and particular aggressive acts (impulsive aggression).

Martinez (2001) stated that “interventions to prevent and control aggression have to be diverse (highly heterogenic) in order to deal with all aspects of human beings and society, ranging from pharmacological control in individuals to programs of peace to promote respect among people and among nations”.

This paper aims to present some of the concepts of control with regards to human aggression that have been proposed as a result of scientific studies. These concepts will serve to represent in a way the results or achievements of the different disciplines in their study of human aggression.

Literature Review

            The first step with regards to human aggression has already been taken with the academe, research organizations and concerned groups undertaking various studies concerning this area. What needs to be seen, however, is how aggression research has influenced policy as a concrete. A case in point is media violence and the current status of policy with regards to it.

            It has long been accepted by most in the scientific community that exposure to violence in media during childhood has an effect on future behaviors as proven from evidence of over half a century of research. There are still many contending views coming from media stakeholders and from the research community itself.

            The 1996 UCLA TV Violence Report comprehensively shows the historical process in how research has affected media policy and the various obstacles that prevented an effective legislation and implementation. It presents the gaps between research and law-making in their understanding of behavioral study and its results, the attitude of government regarding the problem, the various interpretations of children’s freedom of choice and the arguments of the media business in maintaining the status quo of media content.

            This points to the future of other efforts that researchers, be it in coordination with other groups or not, will face in terms of making their life’s work worthwhile.


This paper mainly utilized secondary analysis as a quantitative method of research as it only aims to present concepts of control regarding human aggression. Previous and current studies conducted in various fields that focus on human aggression as well as the accompanying proposals on how aggression can be effectively addressed are included in this study. Current studies were chosen according to actual text availability and limited to those conducted from the year 2000 up to the present. These studies must also represent a certain approaches in the study of aggressive behavior which are social-psychological, pharmacological, cultural and biological. Previous researches were also selected according to text availability as well as if there are more recent studies with contrasting or parallel evidence to the said researches in an attempt to show changes as achieved in the progress of research on the subject area.

Data Presentation

            The following are selected studies according the various approaches:

Social-Psychological Approach

Historically and up to the present in many societies, corporal punishment, particularly spanking, has been employed by parents and schools in an effort to curb aggressive behavior in young children. There are however contending views today on whether corporal punishment actually causes aggression later in life. On the one hand, anti-spanking laws are being implemented all over the world and on the other, researchers  are presenting scientific data that physical discipline when it is properly employed (i.e. not used all of the time, in excess or in rage) is as good as any of the proposed alternative forms of child discipline. Further, the same researchers proposed conditional spanking as a non-abusive resort only when more lenient/non-physical methods fail (Larzelere, Kuhn B. 2007).

Those who hold the instinctual view with regards to aggression suggested that catharsis which involves distraction (consciously redirecting one’s attention from aggressive feelings) or rumination (actually acting out one’s aggression on objects) will eliminate or satisfy the aggressive drive. Recent experiments disprove some points of the catharsis theory by showing that rumination actually increases the level of aggression a lot more than distraction or doing nothing at all (Bushman, 2002). Other earlier experiments also point to the same conclusion.

Recently, the control of aggression through increasing the capacity to regulate one’s self came from the view that social norms which promote the control of self serve to limit aggressive tendencies so that the actual commitment of aggression is due to the individual’s failure in self-control. This was also established in studies conducted on aggressiveness and how it is affected when the capacity for self regulation has been exhausted (DeWall, Baumeister, Stillman & Gailliot, 2005).

Similarly, another study concluded that social intelligence or the ability to respond appropriately to the actions of other people is a component of aggressive tendencies but that the incidence of empathy would serve to diffuse those tendencies. Hence, social intelligence coupled with training the aggressor to empathize would be a viable means of reducing aggression (Bjorkqvist, 2001).

With regards to violence in the media as part of cultural institutions, a longitudinal study of selected subjects who watched violent TV programs and were monitored according to how well they associated themselves with the aggressors and how close to reality they viewed those programs. After 17 years, the same participants were evaluated regarding aggressive behaviors directed to their partners, changes in the type of TV shows they watch as well criminal records and other violations. The results confirmed extensively that the viewing of violence on TV does result in more aggressive behaviors later in life (Huesmann,  Moise-Titus, Podolski & Eron, 2003).

Pharmacological Approach

            Using drugs as a means to eliminate aggressive behavior seems to be ethically/morally applicable only in cases where aggression is caused by behavioral disorders. In studies conducted on reducing impulsive aggressive responses in participants with learning disabilities and personality disorders, initial results show that the drug buspirone, indicated for anxiety disorders, and many anti-depressants of the serotonin re-uptake inhibitors type can actually decrease tendencies to inflict harm to self and to others (Bond, 2005).

Discriminatory reduction of baclofen, a GABA-B agonist, in the dosage of patients who previously had conduct disorders (CD) early in life has lowered aggressive behavior (while increasing aggression in the control group) as shown in one preliminary research. That GABA-B can be used to control aggression only in patients who had prior conduct disorders can be concluded from the study (Cherek,  Pietras, Sharon, Steinberg & Lane, 2002).

Biological Approach

While recognizing other factors that cause aggression, the field of developmental psychobiology’s major challenge at present according to Lederhendler (as cited in Stoff, 2005) will be “to determine where, when, and how biological events operate in neural and endocrine systems to regulate aggressive behavior”.

The present work in the University of Michigan as stated by Wilczynski (2007), for instance, looks into “the interacting factors (of hormonal state and past experience) in order to better understand how experience and hormonal state mutually influence each other, and how both contribute to influencing the limbic centers of the brain as these centers control aggression and other types of social behavior”.

Cultural Approach

In demonstrating the importance of family structure, Whiting and Whiting (as cited in  Kornadt, 2002) showed that “in cultures with patrilineal extended families and polygynous mother-child-households, the children were more aggressive as compared to cultures with nuclear families and close relationship of mother and father; here children were more prosocial. Another factor in which cultures differ and which is relevant for aggressiveness is the diverse culturally-sanctioned social rules, a culture’s values and its dominant religious beliefs.”


            Five studies were cited for the social-psychological approach, with the following results:

  1. corporal punishment to young children, particularly spanking, is an effective means of controlling aggression in young children when properly employed;
  2. distraction works best in decreasing aggressive behavior contradictory to the catharsis theory;
  3. increasing one’s capacity for self-regulation will lower the probability of engaging in aggressive behavior;
  4. empathy training when coupled with social intelligence will reduce aggressive feelings to empathy and

5.exposure to television violence at young ages will predispose one to adopt aggressive behaviors later in life.

            Two studies in the pharmacological approach showed the effects of two drugs, baclofen and buspirone as effective in decreasing aggression in patients. The biological approach takes on the effects of the interplay of biology and actual experiences and how both affect parts of the brain that control aggressive behavior. No actual research was cited because it was deemed sufficient for this researcher to just state the current trends with regards to this approach.

            Finally, one study was selected for the cultural approach which showed that children were less aggressive in two-parent and nurturing households. Other studies that this student came across with do not seem relevant to our setting were not included.


            On a personal level, the various concepts of control with regards to human aggression when seen from the point of view of different disciplines is like seeing the facets of a crystal from different angles. When taken all at the same time, they provide a well-rounded view of the subject matter by taking into account all the factors that might lead to the behavior as well as the multiple possibilities of its control and management. The challenge for us should be in how we are going to utilize the available knowledge in order to diagnose/study the various aggressive behaviors we witness with proximity everyday and apply objectively the available concepts/methods of control and in this way make a difference in our lives and in others.

The study of aggression is truly interesting, albeit confusing and controversial and more studies have still to be conducted in order to shed more light on the empirical truth that still belies us regarding such behaviors as aggression. Leading the current multidisciplinary approach with an international scope is the International Society for the Research on Aggression which has the following objectives: to pool scientific data from studies focusing on aggression, it’s impacts and control, as the contribution of the scientific community to the over-all effort of eliminating violence.

All efforts would be futile, however, without its actual translation into viable programs, social policies and other forms of intervention in order to benefit mankind. On their part, it is up to those who would gain the most in the study of this subject to take part in the shaping of intervention programs and policies that are based on their objective situation, are meaningful and effective.


Bond, A. (2005). Antidepressant treatments and human aggression. European Journal of Pharmacology, 526(1-3), 218-225.

Bjorkqvist, K., Osterman, K. & Kaukiainen, A. (2000). Social intelligence − empathy = aggression?. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 5(2), 191-200.

Bushman, B. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame?

Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(6), 724-731.

Cherek, D., Lane, S., Pietras, C., Sharon, J. & Steinberg J. (2002).  Acute effects of baclofen, a ?-aminobutyric acid-B agonist, on laboratory measures of aggressive and escape responses of adult male parolees with and without a history of conduct disorder. Psychopharmacology, 164(2), 160-167.

DeWall, N., Baumeister, R. Stillman, T. & Gailliot, M. (2006). Violence restrained: Effects of self-regulation and its depletion on aggression. Journal of Experimental Social-Psychology, 43(1), 62-76.

Huesman, R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C. & Eron, L. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977–1992. Developmental Psychology, 39 (2), 201-221.

Kornadt, H.J. (2002). Social motives and their development in cultural context. Retreived February 10, 2008 from Online Readings for Psychology and Culture, Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University

Larzelere, R. & Kuhn, B. (2005). Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics: A meta-analysis. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 8(1), 1-37.

Martinez, M. (2001). Proceedings of the XIV world meeting of the International Society for the Research on Aggression: Prevention and control of aggression and the impact on its victims. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (5th ed). (2004). New York :The McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.

Stoff, D. & Susman, E. (2005). Developmental psychobiology of aggression. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wilczynski, W. (2007). Research description. Retrieved February 7, 2008 from University of Michigan Psychology Department website: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwpsy/faculty/wilczynski.htm

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