What Causes Aggression?
An Analysis of the Data
Psychology 264, Social Psychology
April 4, 2013
What causes Aggression?
An Analysis of the Data
According to statistics from the American Justice Department, in 2011, there were nearly 16,000 violent crimes committed in America on a daily basis. These violent crimes include aggravated assault, which is defined as “attempting to cause, purposely, or knowingly cause bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon,” but does not include non-aggravated assault, such as third degree assault, which is “causing bodily harm to another person either on purpose or because of reckless acts…which could be caused by their own negligence or even by accident.” This staggering statistic leaves the general public wondering: what causes the aggression behind these crimes. Aggression is “intentional action aimed at doing harm or causing pain.” The action could be either physical or verbal, whether the action is successful or not, it would still be defined as aggression. Over the years, many psychologists have tried to find a solid answer to this question. Some have proposed that aggression is instinctual, because in the past, aggression may have been an attractive trait to females because aggressive males could provide greater protection (Aronson, 2010, p.353). Others have claimed that aggression is situational, or caused by priming, such as watching a violent movie or television show (Aronson, 2010, p.354). Yet some claim that aggression is an optional strategy, and that it is determined by past experiences as well as the current situational context (Aronson, 2010, p.355). Does culture have an effect on aggression? There have been countless experiments conducted to attempt to determine the true cause of aggressive behaviors. First, I will analyze the research and experiments related to instinctual aggression, situational aggression, and optional aggression. Second, I will compare the results from each type of aggression. Lastly, I will propose an experiment designed to determine whether aggression is caused by our instincts, the environment, or our conditioning.
There has been life on earth for billions of years, and over the many years, life has been evolving. Living organisms need certain skills and instincts to stay alive, and these necessary instincts change from generation to generation. An instinct that was once a key survival technique for our ancient ancestors might have little to no usefulness in today’s day and age. Evolutionary psychologists claim that “aggression is genetically programmed into males, because it enables them to perpetuate their genes.” Some of the evidence that these evolutionary psychologists use is that in the past, males would use aggression to attempt to establish their dominance over other males, and therefore be chosen to mate with (Aronson, 2010, p.353). This would make sense, because if the most aggressive male passes on their genes more often and more successfully than non-aggressive males, then those aggressive genes would, over time, spread to a large percentage of the population, if not the entire population. This seems to be the case in humans, because we all have an aggressive instinct, even if we don’t consistently act on it. Some support for this theory is given by crime rate statistics, showing that “males are most likely to engage in violence during their peak reproductive years—their teens and 20s” (Aronson, 2010, p.353). While this statistic may seem to support the instinctual aggression, there are many other factors involving aggression at that age than just reproduction. During the teenage years, we are faced with making life choices for the first time, and this can be very stressful, leading to a potential increase in aggression. Some psychologists, such as Konrad Lorenz, claim that not only is aggression instinctual, but it is also very spontaneous. Lorenz states that...
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