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Chapter 12: Aggression. Why are some human beings capable of committing unspeakable atrocities towards others? Why are some societies (e.g. the U.S.) so violent? What is the best way to punish violent people? What are the causes of terrorism?

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Why are some human beings capable of committing unspeakable atrocities towards others?
  • Why are some societies (e.g. the U.S.) so violent?
  • What is the best way to punish violent people?
  • What are the causes of terrorism?
  • How and why do we interpret violence in various ways?

Two alternate models of aggression in Iraq.

“ideological” (political) causes


Generic frustration(e.g., over unreliable utilities)

important distinctions
Important distinctions
  • Intentionality important
  • Hostile vs. instrumental aggression
  • Predatory vs. Rage aggression
    • Levinson & Flynn (1965)
      • Lateral hypothalamus-predatory
      • Medial hypothalamus—rage
nature vs nurture again
Nature vs. nurture (again)
  • Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan (1651)
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
  • Freud
    • Eros vs. thanatos
    • Superego  regulating impulses of the ID
the kitten and rat study zing yang kuo 1961
The “kitten and rat” study(Zing Yang Kuo, 1961)

Two interpretations

Follow-up study by Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1963)

fleshing out of the instinctive view
Fleshing out of the “instinctive” view
  • Sociobiological view (again)
  • Konrad Lorenz: “Resources, food, maters, and shelter and necessary to life and to reproductive fitness. If resources are in short supply, then characteristics resulting in the acquisition of resources will be favored in the course of evolution.”
  • The question of rape
introductory comments on bowling for columbine
Introductory comments on Bowling for Columbine
  • United States does not have the highest overall homicide rate (we are 25th in the world). However, all of the other 24 are non-industrialized countries. Thus, compared to industrialized (“modern”) societies, U.S. is by far the highest.
  • Things get worse when you consider homicides via firearms. We are 8th and again the other seven are not industrialized (e.g. Mexico, Thailand, Columbia).
  • Canadian homicide rate (via firearms or generally) is much lower than the U.S. But many other countries are lower still (e.g. Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Finland).
  • Canada is NOT safer than the United States in terms of overall violent crime rate. Depending on how you compute statistics, Canada is either roughly equal or even higher than U.S.
united states vs canada
United States


Approximately 300 million

Average # homicides per year


Average # homicides involving guns


~64% of all homicides due to guns



Approximately 30 million

Average # homicides per year


Average # homicides involving guns


~31% of all homicides due to guns

United States vs. Canada
difference between u s and canada due to gun control
Difference between U.S. and Canada due to gun control?
  • Unlikely.
  • Stringent gun control in Canada is relatively recent but its homicide rate via firearms has always been much lower than the U.S.
    • And after gun control laws passed in Canada homicide rates were relatively unchanged.
  • Statistics internal to the United States do not appear to consistently support the idea that gun control = fewer crimes/homicides.
bottom line
Bottom line
  • U.S. can safely be regarded as, by far, the most violent in the “modern” industrialized world, but this is true only with respect to homicides involving firearms.
  • And it is not clear why.
within culture differences north vs south
Within-culture differences:North vs. South
  • Murder rates
  • Three hypotheses
    • Environmental
    • Poverty
    • subculture of aggression—”culture of honor”
blumenthal et al 1972
Blumenthal et al. (1972)
  • “To what extent does a man have the right to…”
    • kill another man in self defense
      • Non-south 57%
      • South  70%
    • Kill a person to defend his family
      • Non-south  67%
      • South  80%
    • Kill a person to defend his house
      • Non-south  18%
      • South  60%



Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports

berkowitz and lepage 1967
Berkowitz and LePage (1967)


Mean number of shocks


Gun present




No prior insult

Prior insult




more aggressive

Less aggressive

evidence for the testosterone t aggression link
Evidence for the testosterone (T)—aggression link
  • Injections (in animals)
  • violent vs. non-violent prisoners
  • Fraternity studies
  • Side note on gay men
    • Old “cure” to make them straight: inject T
gender a closer look
Gender: A closer look
  • male body naturally produces much higher baseline level of T.
  • suggests biological difference
  • Some scary statistics
  • Qualifications on gender effect:
    • Expression: overt vs. covert
    • Interpretation of ambiguous events
    • When explicitly/unambiguously provoked: gender differences smaller
  • Does not make people more aggressive per se
  • Rather: disinhibitor
    • Also explains link to sexual misconduct
  • Also: narrows attention
media effects general considerations
“media” effects: general considerations
  • Correlational vs. experimental studies
  • “One-shot” vs. long-term experimental studies
  • Children vs. adults
  • Be careful about availability heuristic
    • E.g. assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan
some representative experimental studies children
some representative experimental studies-children
  • “One shot” experimental paradigms
    • Often show moderator effects
      • Effect of media violence greater for participants already prone to aggression
    • Liebert and Baron, 1972
    • Josephson (1987)
  • Longer-term paradigms
    • Research by J. Philippe Leyens
    • Here, moderator effects LESS likely—
    • Dosage of violence seems to affect everyone
  • Interesting enough, most of the data here are correlational
  • Usual cautions about causation
    • Johnson, 2002
    • David Philips (1983, 1986) —boxing studies
if exposure to violence does cause aggression why would this happen
If exposure to violence does cause aggression, WHY would this happen?
  • Weakens inhibitions
  • Information
  • (Re) Labelling of emotion/mood
  • Habituation
  • World viewed as dangerous place
sex violence and advertising
Sex, violence, and advertising
  • Bushman and Bonacci (2002)
  • TV shows: either neutral, violent, or sexual
    • During each of these three shows, participants were exposed to the identical nine ads
  • Recall for brands advertised much worse for violent and sexual shows compared to neutral
rape and pornography
Rape and pornography
  • The problem of “date rape”
  • Scripts of “no”
does mere exposure to pornography increase aggression toward women
Does mere exposure to pornography increase aggression toward women?
  • Complicating factor: Type of material

Sexual content




(toward woman)



representative study
Representative study
  • Donnerstein & Berkowitz (1981)
    • Prior provocation by female confederate
    • 3 films
      • Aggressive/erotic (violent pornography)
      • Purely erotic
      • Non-erotic violence against women
    • DV: Intense shocks only delivered in aggressive-erotic condition
    • Other research shows that such films increase aggression only when the target is female.
summary of literature meta analysis of 30 studies allen et al 1995
Summary of literature (meta analysis of 30 studies; Allen et al,. 1995):
  • Most clear, replicable effect: violent pornography has robust effect on aggression toward women
  • Non-violent pornography has small but measurable effect
  • Interestingly: pictures of nude women not engaged in explicit sexual activity small trend toward reducing violence.
is capital punishment a reliable deterrent to murder
Is capital punishment a reliable deterrent to murder?
  • Your book says no.
  • However, this is a matter of some debate.
    • Liberals say no
    • Conservatives say yes.
does catharsis work
Does catharsis work?
  • Generally, no
  • Three different types of studies
    • Participation in violent sports
    • Observing sports
    • Direct aggression toward original source (Geen et al., 1975)
  • SO: Venting is NOT a reliable way to reduce anger!
well what does work
Well, what does work?
  • Sounds corny, but it’s true: count to 10
  • Expressing emotion to other person, not “venting”
  • Self awareness
  • Diffusion of anger through apology
  • Modeling
  • Training/building empathy