Revision:Pro-antisocial behaviour - explanations of aggression

Aronson (1997) “Aggression is any act intended to cause harm to another being or object.”


Crowd behaviour first acknowledged by LeBon (1895)

Later explained by Festinger (1952) who suggested people lose inhibitions in a crowd due to anonymity, so more likely to express antisocial acts.

Eg. Mullen (1986) – Correlated size of riots, with increasing savagery and longer durations.

Not just anonymity of self, but also anonymity of others, nil empathy. Shown in; Zimbardo (1970) – Deindividuated victims (numbers for names, hoods, generic clothing, nothing remained of personality) received more shocks in a standard learner/teacher experiment.

This was explained in two ways by Prentice-Dunn and Rogers (1953.)

Private Self Awareness

Own sense of self

In a crowd people lose touch of their own thoughts and focus on surroundings, get ‘swept along’ by a crowd. Leads people to think/act irrationally.

Impulsive thinking → Less restriction on own behaviour→Increased Aggression

Public Self Awareness

Sense of being visible to others

In a crowd, people become less identifiable, so a greater chance of ‘getting away’ with deviant behaviour. Reduces social norms = increased likelihood of aggressive behaviour

Eg. Munn (1981) - Suicide baiting increased with; bigger crowds, night, distance from jumper – all of these increase anonymity so support Festinger’s original claim, and fit in with Prentice-Dunn and Rogers idea of being visible to others.

Diener (1980) said that deindividuation is only accomplished when private self awareness is lost. And that loss of public self awareness is only disinhibition.

Limited – Doesn’t explain why altruism infects some crowds Eg. Religious goodwill festivals, crowds pulling together to help after a disaster/emergency. Thus, deindividuation doesn’t always lead to aggression, just makes its expression more likely depending on circumstances.

Alternate theory = Freedman (1975) looked at the effect of crowding on aggression, and since most deindividuation studies focused on behaviour of crowds it seems appropriate. He suggested that crowding leads to intensification of current feelings. So people at religious festivals feel good, and when there is a bigger crowd, it makes them feel ecstatic. If people enjoy deviant behaviour, they’ll love being in a riot, get carried away. Good because it doesn’t assume a simple relationship and it allows for the variation of individual differences.

Social Learning Theory

Behaviourist approach focused on social modeling. 3 Stages;

  • Acquisition - Gaining of the behaviour by watching of another
  • Instigation - Giving opportunity to use new behaviour
  • Regulation – Reinforcement either stamps in or diminishes behaviour

Bandura (1961) children viewing aggressive acts on a bobo doll being rewarded were more likely to be aggressive than those that had seen the aggressor punished. Supports the fact that positive/negative reinforcement affects behaviour, also most of the displayed aggression in the children was imitations of the original aggressor, giving evidence for acquisition.

Criticisms; Due to its lab based nature, is not applicable to the real world due to demand characteristics, the children were being encouraged to be violent with the reward of the original behaviour, this largely doesn’t happen in the real world.

Bobo Dolls were also designed to be hit; therefore is it a good measure of aggression? Johnson (1977) argued that it shouldn’t constitute aggression, as it doesn’t fit with the definition of causing harm, an argument of semantics.

Follow up research showed the children being aggressive to the doll were the more aggressive anyway according to teachers/parents.

Bandura (1963) repeated the experiment, using video and cartoon instigators instead of live role models. Found it still influenced aggression, this is important as it has severe implications for the real world and the increase in TV violence in the modern world and the number of ‘copycat attacks’

Feldman (1994) as a result of social learning theory used it in court to explain criminal behaviour in a social context. Gives it more credibility, or at least changes social views, as it gives a precedent to other offenders.

Reductionist; restricts explanation down to reinforcement, in spite of other studies that show many factors influence the likeliness of manifestation of aggressive behaviour, including past experiences with aggression, likelihood of reward (or punishment)/ environmental conditions.

Ability to explain cultural differences; members of a culture socialised in certain norms and attitudes. Different cultures have varying opinions of aggression, or degrees of aggressive ways of life.

E.g. Yanomamo tribe is aggressive and volatile. !Kung Tribe is quiet and pacifistic. Both value aggression differently through socialisation.

Raises the question that if all aggressive behaviour is learned through society and social interaction, then from were did it originate? Wider historical approach must be taken to look at the pasts of cultures individually

Overall; many explanations of aggression, all have strengths and limitations Aggression is complex – many factors associated with it, no unified theory.

Social construct, so should be explained in cultural context.

Emic approach to understand its contextual nature is more appropriate for further investigation.