Theories of Aggression

Aggression is commonly defined as a feeling of hatred or anger that may result in violent and threatening behavior. This behavior may occur on both interpersonal and international levels, and cause physical and psychological harm. Aggression may be expressed in different ways: mental, verbal, physical, emotional etc. It usually reveals hostility, intimidation, or assertion of dominance. Scholars distinguish between affective and predatory aggression. Affective aggressive behavior occurs randomly and can be uncontrolled, whereas predatory aggressive behavior is planned and aimed at a certain intended purpose.

There are different potential causes of aggressive behavior. Some of them are environmental, while another have socio-psychological origin. Scholars distinguish between inner, external, and interpersonal causes of aggression. Hence, it is important to consider the complex interrelationship between self, culture, and crowd behavior.

There is a variety of theories, which aim to detect and explain the causes of aggressive behavior. The first scholar to suggest a scientific theory in this domain was Sigmund Freud. He was also the first to acknowledge the aggressive impulse as a significant feature in the formation and motivation of an individual’s behavior. Freud developed an instinct approach to aggressive behavior, claiming that the main cause of it is the death instinct. Though contemporary researchers find no evidence to support Freud’s hypothesis, it gave impulse to the development of further, more efficient theories of aggression.

Conrad Lorenz developed Freud’s instinct theory of aggression by combining it with natural selection theory introduced by Charles Darwin, and viewing instinctive aggression as result of evolution (Lorenz, 1963/1974). Lorenz’s theory exemplifies a separate group of biological aggression theories. These theories investigate mainly physical and neurobiological reasons for aggressive behavior. However, the evidence in this area of contemporary research is still limited.

Drive theories present another category of the theories of aggression. As opposed to the biological theories, they view the innate need of a person or a group of people as a major cause of aggressive behavior. One of these theories is a frustration-aggression hypothesis. It emerged in the first half of XX century, and was introduced by John Dollard, Neal E. Miller, and colleagues. According to this theory, the major cause of aggressive behavior is frustration, and when it is impossible to challenge the initial source of this frustration, the perpetrator places his/her aggression onto a scapegoat, an innocent target (Dollard, Miller et al, 1939).

Aggressive acts are often inspired by combined motivations and are highly conditioned by specific consequences. Hence, in order to discuss and explain conditions and causes of violence and aggression, the General Aggression Model was designed. This model includes biological, situational, and personological variables of aggressive behavior. It characterizes any aggressive act along four general dimensions: “degree of hostile and agitated affect present; automaticity; degree to which the ultimate goal is to harm the victim or benefit the perpetrator; and degree to which consequences are considered” (Anderson, Huesmann, 2003, p. 299). Such approach provides contemporary researchers with a better understanding of aggression and allows them to invent appropriate interventions. General Aggression Model is a social-cognitive, dynamic, integrative, and developmental model, which provides a sufficient framework for domain-specific theories of aggression, and aims to unite and generate previous scientific theories in order to suggest the most suitable solutions to the problem of aggressive behavior.

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