Aggression: Reduction and control
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Aggression has been humankind’s steady companion throughout history—in life, literature, and art. Many hypotheses have been suggested by psychologists and other scientists concerning the nature of aggression; some have suggested that it is learned behavior, others that it is an innate, genetically inherited drive. The fields of ethology and sociology have mustered evidence to support the evolutionary (genetic) basis of aggression. Theories based on these viewpoints hold that at some point in humankind’s past, aggressiveness was an adaptive trait—that is, aggression helped ensure the survival of the individual who possessed that quality, thereby enabling the aggressive trait to be passed on to future generations. Social psychologists, on the other hand, have studied the effects of modeling aggressive behavior. When children, for example, have been exposed to aggressive behavior modeled (acted out or demonstrated in some way) by others, they have shown an increase in aggressive behavior. In other words, the children observe and learn the behavior. Albert Bandura’s social learning theory describes this concept of aggression.
The frustration-aggression hypothesis, as described by John Dollard, holds that both violence and aggression are the result of being frustrated in an attempt to reach a goal. When basic needs have been thwarted, aggression appears. As Leonard Berkowitz stated in Roots of Aggression (1969),...
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Treatment Techniques (Psychology and Mental Health)
Psychologists Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning adapted Donald Meichenbaum’s concept of stress inoculation training to produce one technique that allows aggressive people to control their own aggressive behavior. McKay and his colleagues present simple, concise, step-by-step directions to deal with aggression. Because aggression is often fueled by emotional distress, they offer a technique of “covert assertion” through the development of two separate skills: thought interruption and thought substitution. When becoming angry or frustrated, the potential aggressor thinks of the word “stop” or some other interrupting device. The void suddenly created is then filled with a reserve of previously prepared positive, nonaggressive thoughts. This technique can be mastered, these psychologist maintain, if it is practiced conscientiously throughout the day for three days to a week.
The creation of an aggression stimulants structure gives those who are compelled to be negatively aggressive the opportunity to take a personal inventory of who (or what) the targets of their aggression are, what the feelings associated with those people are, and what would occur if a plan of “attack” against them were to be put into action. This type of analysis lends itself well to self-accountability; it allows people to “own” the problem and to believe that it can be controlled if they choose to control it. It also...
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Theoretical Explanations (Psychology and Mental Health)
Acts of aggression have been central in human history, myth, literature, and even religion. In the biblical account, for example, humankind has barely come into existence when Cain kills his brother Abel. Almost as old are questions concerning the causes of aggression and the debate over how to control it.
Sigmund Freud saw aggression as the result of struggles within the psyche of the individual. He believed that the tension produced in the struggle between the life instinct and the death instinct creates outward aggression. Alfred Adler another psychodynamic theorist, stated that aggression represents the most general human striving and is a necessity of life; its underlying principle is self-assertion. Humanistic theorist Rollo May notes that attention to aggression has nearly universally focused on its negative aspects. In Power and Innocence (1972), May wrote that “we have been terrified of aggression, and we assume— delusion though it is—that we can better control it if we center all our attention on its destructive aspects as though that’s all there is.”
It was first the behaviorist school, then social learning theorists (such as Albert Bandura), who explored ways to reduce and control aggression. The frustration-aggression hypothesis, for example, was developed in the 1930’s. Behaviorists tended to approach aggressive behavior in terms of stimuli, responses, and reinforcement. In a...
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Controlling Aggression (Psychology and Mental Health)
The debate over whether aggression is learned, innate, or both (and, if both, over the relative importance of the two aspects) is not likely to end soon. Debates over how to control aggression will also continue. As in many areas of psychology, bridging the gap between the theoretical and the practical is difficult.
Researchers in the behavioral and social learning schools have developed numerous methods of controlling aggression. Interventions to control aggression can be made at the individual and group levels. Individuals can learn to control their aggression through relaxation training, self-control training, communication skills training, contingency management, and psychotherapy. These techniques vary in the extent that they involve and rely on others. Relaxation training involves breathing techniques or meditation. Self-control training involves rational restructuring, cognitive self-instruction, and stress inoculation. It basically teaches people to make verbal statements to themselves reminding them to think first and respond in a less aggressive manner. It has been proven to work. Communication skills training focuses on methods of negotiation and conflict resolution. Contingency management involves the use of rewards for desired behavior and nonphysical punishment for undesired behaviors. Psychotherapy tries to find the root of the person’s problem with aggression.
Group interventions, done in small...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Berkowitz, Leonard, ed. Roots of Aggression. New York: Atherton Press, 1969. Revisits the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Examines such areas as catharsis, frustration, and conditions facilitating the occurrence of aggression.
Cavell, Timothy A., and Kenya T. Malcolm, eds. Anger, Aggression, and Interventions for Interpersonal Violence. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007. An examination of interventions for interpersonal violence, particularly in schools and homes. Looks at venting and children’s aggression.
Hudley, Cynthia. You Did That on Purpose: Understanding and Changing Children’s Aggression. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008. A discussion of why children are aggressive and the BrainPower program, a strategy for changing attributions, as well as what school and communities can do to help control aggression.
Martinez, Manuela, ed. Prevention and Control of Aggression and the Impact on Its Victims. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001. Proceedings of the fourteenth World Meeting of the International Society for the Research on Aggression, held in July 9-14, 2000, in Valencia, Spain. Examines prevention and control of aggression from a wide perspective and argues the efforts to control aggression must be varied and numerous, ranging from pharmaceuticals to worldwide peace efforts, to be effective.
May, Rollo. Power and...
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