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What is the origin of aggressive behavior?

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When evaluating aggression as a behavior we have to consider a person’s intentions as well as the outcome. Elliot Aronson defined aggression as ‘behavior aimed at causing harm or pain’. The act of aggression can be seen to be expressed in two different ways depending on where it is assumed to originate from. Those who believe aggression is learned behavior typically emphasize behavior in defining aggression, aggression must result in harm. Those who believe aggression as innate drive typically emphasize intentions in defining aggression, which may be expressed symbolically. Aggression is mostly viewed as behavior which causes intentional harm to another person.

The biological approach looks at the behavior of aggression as the result of heredity. Aggression originates from innate characteristics of human beings, not the from the environment around them. The mapping of the human brain to identify areas responsible for specific areas of behavior is evidence for the biological perspective on aggression. Based on this idea of localization function, researchers have sought after areas of the brain with control aggressive behavior such as the hypothalamus and the amygdale. However the theory goes beyond research because much of this argument has been based on animal studies. Pain causing aggression is also seen as a possible biological solution to aggression. Stimuli which cause pain will often trigger aggressive behavior. Also seen that aversive stimuli can also trigger aggression in people. Studies of gender differences in aggression have also been suggestive of a biological mechanism, men are usually more aggressive then women because of the role of hormones. If aggression does have an innate foundation such as proposals by studies in gender, it is likely that it is the product of evolution.

Lornez supported this idea, he believed that many human characteristics were based on inherited mechanism. Aggression to Lorenz served as an evolutionary function, for the survival of the most aggressive individuals. Aggression was evolved as a characteristic for survival and is still present in humans today. Lorenz viewed aggression as a biologically-based drive which must be sometimes satisfied through behavioral expression, this concept could be called the ‘reservoir’. The reservoir builds up with the drive of aggression over time, and is reduced by the expression of anger. Normally the expression of aggressive behavior is controlled by the environmental cues called sign stimuli, which regulate the initiation and inhibition of aggression.

Lorenz;s theory has several implications, first it implies aggression is innate and unavoidable. So if society attempts to suppress all forms of aggression the reservoir will simply overflow resulting in random acts of violence, this is known as the vacuum activities. Technology bypasses the controls of sign stimuli that limit excessive violence, such as dropping a bomb. Is said that aggression can be released through the process catharsis, such as playing a sport. Ideas of innate aggression by Lorenz weakened because lack of supporting human evidence. The biological perspective does prove that there are some forms of aggression that have a psychological foundation that is independent of learning.

The behaviorists view social behavior such as aggression as the result of learning, aggression is particular class of voluntary responses, which are acquired and modified by means of reinforcement. This view is about the situation not the person, because reinforces are provided by the environment. There are two aspects of aggressive behavior that are caused by learning. Instrumental aggression is aggressive behavior which is maintained because it is positively reinforced. To prevent instrumental aggression one must alter the environmental conditions so that aggression is not rewarded. Aggressive acts can be viewed as non instrumental aggression if the behavior seems unlikely to lead to a reward, such as kicking your car for not starting. This aggression is explained by the frustration-aggression hypothesis by John Dollard. It states that frustration is the sole cause of aggression, certain circumstances create frustration, then this will arouse a drive that motivates aggressive behavior.

A frustrating situation may elicit different types of aggression, aggression may be displaced so the theory is less precise and testable. The intensity of the aggressive behavior is due to the intensity of the frustration, and prior punishment for the same aggressive behavior. However can also be seen that aggressive behavior can occur from reinforcement, even if there is an absence of frustration. If aggression really is learned then no amount of catharsis is going to solve the problem, Behaviorists say that the elements of the social environment that encourage aggression need to be identified and altered. In the end it can be conclude that frustration is only one of the possible ways to cause aggression.

The cognitive approach also believe that aggression is learned, however they see the behaviorist viewpoint as too limited, because it ignores the role of mental processes in learning. Mental processes seem to affect aggression in two ways. First we are capable of learning by observing what others do, imitation or modeling rather then direct experience and reinforcement. The Bobo doll experiment proved that aggressive behavior can be learnt from observing others aggressive behavior towards a blow-up doll. Schemata (our thoughts and perceptions how we perceive the world and the way we act) guide individuals behavior can also affect aggression. It is also possible that violent thoughts may elicit violence through a kind of priming effect, the notion that any thought or memory is capable of increasing the activation of associated thoughts or memories. This is what the neo-association theory is based upon, that violent cognitions can increase the potential for behavior, this theory accounts for non-imitative forms of aggression in the cognitive approach. Available data on the neo-association theory does suggest that the way we think can influence the way we act, aggression is not inevitable.

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