PSYA3 - Institutional AggressionWatch
Institutional aggression refers to aggression within or between groups or institutions (e.g. prisons, armed forces). Aggression can take form in such places due to a variety of factors, and there are two models (the importation model and the deprivation model) that explain why aggression may occur in such environments. Much of the research into institutional aggression is predominantly done in that of prison environments.
The first model that explains why institutional aggression occurs is Irwin and Cressey's importation model. This model claims that some people who enter prison do so already possessing certain characteristics that they have brought into the prison with them; things such as social histories and values. It is these characteristics, according to the model, that influences their adaptation into the prison environment. Those who were more aggressive outside of prison are predisposed towards interpersonal violence within prison. Irwin and Cressey argue that prisoners are not 'blank slates' when they enter prison - any experience they have had outside of prison will be imported too.
Statistics suggest that young inmates have a more difficult time adjusting to the prison environment; therefore they are more likely to have confrontations with other inmates and with prison staff and are more likely to view violence as an appropriate way to deal with conflicts within prisons.
In general the importation model is supported as research has shown that black inmates are more likely to be associated with interpersonal violence than are white inmates. An explanation typically offered for this is that more black prisoners enter prison from impoverished communities with higher rates of violent crime. As a result, they are more likely to bring into prison the cultural norms that condone violent behaviour. This supports the model in the sense that the prisoners have taken their experiences into the prison with them, accounting for the higher levels of violence.
Research support for the importation model alsocomes from Harer and Steffensmeier. They analysed data from 58 US prisons and found that black inmates were those who were more likely to be aggressive, thought to be from communities with more violence. This agrees with the evidence found previously, supporting the importation model's claim that certain characteristics are imported into the prison.
DeLisi et al provide further research support for the importation model, studying over 800 male inmates and finding a slight positive correlation between gang membership and aggression in prison, suggesting that aggression factors from before entering prison influence aggression in prisons.
However, there are issues with such research into institutional aggression as in DeLisi's research the correlation between gang membership and aggression in prison is only very slight. Also, with the correlational data we cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between gang membership and aggression in prison. There may be other factors involved which are not accounted for. In both sets of research, however, there is a good amount of data looked at (data from 58 US prisons, and 800 male inmates), so we can argue that we can generalise the results to the wider population. However, such data is from only the US, which makes it ethnocentric and culturally biased. Therefore, we cannot apply the results to other cultures as other cultures may not have the same results.
The second model that explains institutional aggression is Sykes' deprivation model. While the importation model claims that certain characteristics are brought into prison, this model claims that it is the prison itself rather than outside factors that accounts for violence in prisons. The model argues that it is the oppressive conditions of the prison that causes extreme stress and frustration for inmates and this, in turn, leads to violence against other inmates or members of prison staff.
According to Sykes factors that are part of the prison experience for inmates contribute to aggression and violence. For example, catalysed by deprivation of liberty, lack of autonomy, lack of goods or services, lack of heterosexual relationship and absence of ample security are very likely factors that will increase rates of aggression in the prison environment.
There is research to support Sykes' deprivation model, as McCorkle et al found that overcrowding, lack of privacy and a lack of meaningful activity in prison all significantly influence violence. Light also found that when overcrowding in prisons increases, so do the levels of violence. These findings suggest that there are many factors within the prison environment that account for increased levels of aggression.
However, such factors did not influence the likelihood of major collective acts of aggression (i.e. prison riots), which suggests that the deprivation model may only apply to some forms of aggression. Also, the model is fairly old, as it was formed around 50 years ago. A lot has changed since and thus it can be argued that the model lacks mundane realism in this century. Therefore the model may have low external validity as we cannot apply the findings fully to now as differences are very likely to be found.
On the other hand, research has shown that aggression in prisons can be controlled by improving conditions, showing that deprivation can increase aggression. For example, Wilson changed the deprivation conditions at HMP Woodhill; these factors included noise, heat and overcrowding, and by lowering levels of such decreased violence was found, supporting the deprivation model that the conditions of the prison affect levels of violence. This research also presents a use application to the real world to modern prisoners as it can be used to reduce levels of violence in prisons by improving the living conditions in those prisons.
Zimbardo argues that the situation can have a powerful influence on a person's willingness to inflict harm on others, making the point that the cause of institutional aggression arises from the situation itself and not from within the individual. In Zimbardo's Stanford Prison experiment, participants inflicted electric shocks on others when commanded to. This highlights how in the situation, although they did not want to inflict pain, the power of the situation can affect levels of aggression. However, here ethics is a problem as inflicting pain onto another participant may not be justifiable for the purposes of the study. Also, we can argue that just giving somebody an electric shock is not aggression at all and is just passive aggression, therefore this may not support the deprivation model after all.
In all both models do suggest numerous ways in which institutional aggression may be caused. However, both the importation and deprivation can be argued to be deterministic because the models ignore the role of free will people have and ability of unconscious thought in managing their own behaviours. The models make the assumption that aggression is made likely with personality factors or environmental factors pre-disposing individuals to violent behaviour, however this is not always the case.
Also, some explanations, such as that of the importation model, see aggression as a product of innate personality traits that are imported into prison and thus through nature. Other explanations, such as that of the deprivation model, see the environment of the prison setting contributing to aggression and thus highlighting the role of nurture in institutional aggression.
As well as this, gender bias is an issue in institutional aggression because they have almost exclusively focused on males who may very well have different profiles to females, which have not been focused on. For example, female prisoners are often seen as establishing strong bonds with other prisoners rather than identify with prison subcultures. Therefore explanations for females in institutional aggression may very well be different for the aggressive outlook on males.