What Causes Aggression? Is It an ‘Instinct’ or a ‘Learned Behaviour’?

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What causes aggression? Is it an ‘instinct’ or a ‘learned behaviour’? (a)Compare and contrast the views of any two psychological domains on the causes of aggression. (b)Evaluate the validity of their claims in the order to reach an informed decision about the causes of aggression.

In order to explore the causes of aggressive behaviour, we have to be clear about what we mean by aggressive behaviour. The psychological definitions of aggression are determined by theoretical perspectives and there is no consensus within or across the sciences about its components. For example some researchers support that aggression is an inborn, instinctive process based on which we intend to harm others. Such approaches adopt a definition that places emphasis on the intention to harm others. So it views aggression as the intention to harm others and this is not dependent of whether actual harm is inflicted. Other theorists attribute aggression to being a learned behaviour and lay emphasis on observable behaviours that result in eliciting harm to another person. It highlights that the harm needs to be evident so it can be observed and does not view thoughts or unobservable emotions as being components of aggressive behaviour. Bandura in 1973 defined aggression as ‘behaviour that results in personal injury or destruction of property (Hogg, M, Vaughan, G. 1998, p.40) Anderson and Bushman 2002 postulate ‘aggression is behaviour which causes intentional harm to another person’ (Glassman 2004, p.337). Thus it seems current explanations of aggression fall into two board classes which focus on biological or social environment influences. The following essay is going to explore and contrast the distinct views of the biological and behaviourist domains on determining aggression. It will walk through the core ideas which form the basis for each theory and illustrate the main differences on whether they view aggression as an instinct or as a learned behaviour. I will conclude by assessing the validity of each theory based on existing research.

The biological domain views aggressive behaviour as being an innate part of human nature and we are programmed at birth to act in that way. It looks at the genetic, inborn characteristics of the person and not the situation as being the key determinants. Among the biological approaches, important contribution came from the field of ethology, which is concerned with the comparative study of animal and human behaviour. As one of the fields pioneers, Konrad Lorenz (1974) offered a model of aggression that dealt specifically with the issue of how aggressive energy is developed and set free in both humans and animals. His core assumption is that the organism continuously builds up aggressive energy and he likens this process to the operation of a reservoir filling up with water. Occasionally the reservoir needs to be emptied in a controlled fashion, otherwise it will overflow. Whether or not this energy will lead to the manifestation of aggressive behaviour depends on two factors: (a) the amount of aggressive energy accumulated inside the organism at any one time; and (b) the strength of the external stimuli (e.g. the sight or smell of predator) capable of triggering an aggressive response. So this suggests the potential or instinct for aggression may be innate and the actual aggressive behaviour is elicited by specific stimuli in the environment know sign stimuli. ‘Sign stimuli are environmental cues which regulate the expression of behaviours related to innate drives’ (Glassman 2004, p. 340) Some sign stimuli elicit the individual aggression, whereas other sign stimuli may act as inhibitors. He also argues that aggression serves an evolunationary function, allowing the strongest and fittest members of a group to survive and re-produce, whereas eliminating the weaker members. If the aggression is not frequently released in controllable and manageable amounts, that are in accordance with environmental cues the...
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