Chapter summary image


  • Social psychologists are interested in what causes aggressive behavior and have sought for several years to achieve a better understanding of its nature through research. They anticipate that the better we understand human nature, the better equipped we are to prevent aggressive acts.
  • Aggression comes in two forms: hostile (affective) and instrumental. Hostile aggression occurs when the primary goal of an action or behavior is to make the victim suffer. Individuals who participate in hostile aggression, then, are simply seeking to harm or injure the target of their attack. Instrumental aggression occurs when the primary goal of the action is not to make the victim suffer, but to attain a noninjurious goal. An individual who participates in instrumental aggression will harm or injure another as a way of obtaining various rewards such as control of a situation or improved self-esteem.
  • While we often think of aggression as being triggered by the actions of another person, it can also be triggered by cultural factors. A culture’s system of values, beliefs, and norms may suggest that aggression is appropriate, or even necessary, in certain circumstances. In cultures where the law is weak and citizens need to protect themselves, the act or even the threat of violence is considered to be essential.


  • Freud believed that aggression stems from a self-destructive impulse and that humans must act out that impulse in order to release negative energy and return to a state of calm—a behavior Freud refers to as a “death drive.” Lorenz believed that through evolution, humans developed a fighting instinct similar to that found in animals.
  • Social learning theory suggests that human aggression is largely learned by observing the aggressive behavior of other people and is affected by consequences such as punishment or reward in the individual’s environment. Psychologist Albert Bandura developed social learning theory, also referred to as social cognitive theory, during the 1960s.
  • The General Aggression Model (GAM) builds on the social learning theory and provides a more integrative framework for specific theories of aggression by including input variables. According to the GAM, two major types of input variables can trigger events that may eventually lead to blatant aggression—factors that relate to current situations, or situational factors, and factors that relate to the individuals involved, or personal factors.


  • There are several factors that influence aggression, including aversive experiences, arousal, and cues in the environment. Aversive experiences can come in the form of pain, discomfort, or personal attacks. Arousal from sources such as exercise and sex can be transformed into aggression. Environmental cues such as guns or other weapons increase the likelihood of aggression.
  • Viewing violence either in person or on television can increase aggressive behavior, particularly when individuals are provoked. It can also desensitize viewers to violence, making them less aware of the harmful results of their actions.


  • Aggression is not inevitable. It can be reduced and even prevented in many cases through several strategies. The source of the aggression might impact which prevention strategy is most effective in a given situation.
  • Children are likely to model aggressive behavior if they see that behavior rewarded. Similarly, they are less likely to model aggressive behavior if that behavior is punished.
  • Just as the modeling concept can lower inhibitions and encourage imitation when aggressive behavior is observed, it can also increase self-control and encourage obedience when non-aggressive behavior is observed.


behavior, either verbal or physical, that is used to intentionally harm another individual 200

aversive experience

an undesirable experience that may include pain, discomfort, overcrowding, or attack 209

cognitive-neoassociation theory

a theory that suggests that when a person experiences something with a negative result, such as pain or discomfort, aggressive behavior can often occur in the wake of that experience 205

culture of honor

a culture in which strong norms suggest that aggression is an appropriate response to an insult or threat to one’s honor 202


when physiological reactions to violence are reduced as a result of repeated exposure 212

direct aggression

an action or behavior that is clearly derived from the aggressor and is aimed directly at the target 201

expressive view of aggression

a method of aggression in which aggression is used as a way to express anger and reduce stress 201


a feeling of being upset or annoyed by the inability to reach a goal or perform an activity 205

frustration aggression theory

a theory stating that frustration precedes aggression because our motivation for aggression increases when our current behavior is interrupted or we are prevented from reaching a goal 205

General Aggression Model (GAM)

a theory that builds on the social learning theory and provides a more integrative framework for specific theories of aggression by including situational and personal variables 207

hostile (affective) aggression

a behavior that occurs when the primary goal of an action is to make the victim suffer 200

indirect aggression

an action or behavior that is not clearly derived from the aggressor, and where it is not obvious to the target that he or she has been the victim of aggression 201

instinct theory

a theory in which aggression is an innate and inevitable force 203

instrumental aggression

a behavior that occurs when the primary goal of an action is not to make the victim suffer, but to attain a non-injurious goal 200


a process by which a person mimics another’s behavior 206


an action or process that strengthens a behavior 206

social learning theory

a theory that suggests that human aggression is largely learned by observing the aggressive behavior of other people and is reinforced by consequences such as punishment or reward in the individual’s environment 205

Test Your Understanding

Multiple Choice

1. Which of the following situations is an example of hostile (affective) aggression?

a. A baseball player rushes the pitcher’s mound after being hit by a ball.

b. A basketball player elbows an opponent in the eye after a rebound.

c. A football player knocks down a receiver after he catches the ball.

d. A soccer player steps on the foot of an official while going for the ball.

2. What group would most likely be the target of aggression?

a. men

b. teens

c. the elderly

d. women

3. Which of the following is an example of indirect aggression?

a. a verbal insult to a person’s face

b. a punch in the stomach

c. a rumor that is told in secret

d. a noticeable snub at a party

4. What is the flaw in the instinct theory?

a. It only applies to animals and does not apply to human behavior.

b. It does not take into account the differences in behavior between individuals.

c. It does not include verbal aggression.

d. It does not take history into consideration.

5. Which of the following is not a biological force of aggression?

a. genetics

b. biochemical makeup

c. hormones

d. observations

6. Reinforcements influence aggression by

a. creating additional frustration

b. rewarding behavior

c. regulating stimuli

d. increasing environmental cues

7. According to GAM, what are elements of a given situation that can increase aggression?

a. biological variables

b. situational factors

c. personal factors

d. instinct variables

8. Which of the following is not an element of an aversive experience?

a. discomfort

b. knowledge

c. attack

d. pain

9. Through what method of influence does television induce violence?

a. modeling

b. authoritarianism

c. frustration

d. reiteration

10. Which of the following is a method to reduce aggression?

a. increased arousal

b. genetic engineering

c. non-aggressive modeling

d. appraisal

ANSWERS: 1. a; 2. d; 3. c; 4. b; 5. d; 6. b; 7. b; 8. b; 9. a; 10. c

Essay Response

1. Is the fighting a soldier engages in during wartime considered emotional or instrumental aggression? Why? Can it be both?

2. Give an example of a culture of honor in the United States and explain the forces that impact that culture.

3. How do biological factors work with environmental factors to impact aggression?

4. What reinforcements and punishments (positive and negative) might be involved in a physical fight between two men over a woman they both have interest in?

5. How strongly does television influence your behavior? Have you ever modeled the behavior of an actor?

Apply It!

Conduct your own study on the effects of violent song lyrics. Ask your friends to bounce a ball against a wall as they listen to a song that includes lyrics about violence and then a song that includes neutral lyrics. Notice the change, if any, in the force your participant uses while listening to each song.

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