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Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression

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Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression

Multiple explanations for aggression exist, and one primarily focuses on how we interact socially with our environment and how this ultimately affects our aggressive tendencies. These theories consider the social-psychological explanations of aggression and comprise:

  1. The frustration-aggression model

  2. Social learning theory (aggression)

  3. Deindividuation

Each theory explores the social situations and contexts necessary for aggression to occur and uses the ideas to explain a possible root cause for aggression.

Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression, Aggression Woman Man Shouting Social Explanation, StudySmarterMan shouting at woman, freepik.com/pch.vector

The social-psychological definition of aggression

Whilst the explanation for aggression differs from other explanations, such as the biological explanation of aggression, the social-psychological definition of aggression remains the same.

Aggression is a physical or psychological behaviour that intends to harm others who don't wish to be harmed (Baron & Richardson, 1994).

Social-psychological causes/types of aggression

As we discussed above, three main theories attempt to explain aggression through social and psychological explanations:

  1. The frustration-aggression hypothesis

  2. Social learning theory

  3. Deindividuation

Frustration-aggression hypothesis

The frustration-aggression hypothesis argues that anger, violence, and hostility result from being prevented from reaching a goal, which creates feelings of frustration.

Dolland et al. (1939) developed the frustration-aggression hypothesis and suggested that frustration always leads to aggression and aggression is always a result of frustration. How aggressive you become because of this frustration depends on how close you were to reaching the goal and what set you back.

The hypothesis consists of the following steps:

  1. A person attempts to achieve a goal but is blocked.

  2. They experience frustration.

  3. An aggressive drive is created.

  4. They display aggressive behaviour.

This theory relies on catharsis, which is a psychodynamic theory.

Catharsis is when a repressed, pent up, or strong emotion is released.

The aggressive behaviour displayed in step four is cathartic because, through aggression, the frustration is satisfied, which reduces the aggressive drive and makes further aggressive behaviour unnecessary.

However, while frustration comes from a source, it may not be possible to direct the aggressive behaviour to the source, which is known as displacement. Displacement could occur for several reasons:

  1. The source of frustration may be abstract, e.g. the government, economic situation, institution, etc.

  2. The source may be too powerful, and acting aggressively towards it could result in severe punishment, inducing fear of punishment.

  3. The source may be unavailable or absent at the time.

In such cases, aggression may be deflected to other, innocent sources.

Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression Social psychological types of aggression StudySmarterFrustration, freepik.com

Evaluation of social-psychological theories of aggression – frustration-aggression hypothesis

Let's consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

Strengths

Research supports the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

  • Green (1986) conducted a study with male university students and gave them a jigsaw to complete, but there were three different types of conditions that created frustration:

  1. Solving the jigsaw was impossible.

  2. A confederate made them run out of time.

  3. A confederate insulted them whilst they did the jigsaw.

  • Then in the second part of the study, they were taken to another room where they had to give electric shocks to a confederate when they made mistakes on a task. The participants who gave the most shocks were the ones who confederates insulted, the ones who ran out of time, and the ones with the impossible jigsaw. All three frustrated groups overall gave greater shocks than the control group.

This research shows frustration may cause or encourage aggression and supports the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

Weaknesses

  • There are methodological issues with some of the research that the frustration-aggression hypothesis relies on, e.g., Green (1968) used all male participants. Hence, it is hard to generalise findings to females or older people, which reduces the study's validity.

  • There is also research that provides evidence against the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis. Bushman's (2002) research suggested that aggression isn't always cathartic. Participants were angered and then split into groups. These groups were asked to hit a punching bag – the rumination group were asked to think of the person who angered them when doing so, whilst the distraction group were asked to think about becoming fitter physically from hitting the bag. They were also compared to controls.

    • After, they were asked how angry they felt and then tasked with administering loud music to the person who angered them.

    • They found that the group who ruminated felt angrier than the other two groups and were the most aggressive. This finding suggests catharsis is not clear cut in its attempts to release feelings of anger, contradicting the catharsis theory in the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

  • When it comes to aggressive behaviour, individual differences exist between people in how they act when they get angry or frustrated. Some people may cry, while others might leave the scene/situation, and some may try to meditate rather than lash out with aggressive behaviour. This shows that the frustration-aggression hypothesis isn't a full explanation of aggression and that its proposition that frustration always causes aggression is incorrect.

  • Berkowitz (1965) argues the frustration-aggression hypothesis is not enough to trigger aggressive behaviours, and social cues (such as environmental triggers) are needed for someone to be aggressive.

Social learning theory

Bandura (1965) investigated the social learning theory. Bandura theorised human behaviour could be 'learned' through observation. He proposed observed behaviour can inform people's ideas of what to do or how to react when they are put in a given situation through a process called imitation. In 1965, Bandura put his theory to the test.

  • Bandura studied groups of young boys and girls to determine whether he could demonstrate imitation. Bandura hypothesised that children, who see most adults as role models, would imitate their behaviour in a situation if they observed it first. Bandura prepared a room with a Bobo doll to test this hypothesis, had two sets of adults who would be either aggressive or kind to the doll, and had the children observe this behaviour.

  • The children that had watched an adult act aggressively towards the doll were more likely to also be aggressive when they entered the room, both verbally and physically. The children who watched an adult act more kindly towards the doll were less aggressive. This finding suggested imitation was taking place due to the observation of role models. This finding was further supported by the observation of greater changes in behaviour when the role models were of the same sex as the child observers, as young boys may see a man as more like them and thus more of an example of how they should act.

Bandura concluded behaviour imitation is an explanation for aggressive behaviour. Social learning theory is a good example of a social-psychological explanation of aggression.

Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression Social psychological types of aggression by Bandura, StudySmarterBobo Doll Aggression Experiment, commons.wikimedia.org

Evaluation of social-psychological theories of aggression –social learning theory

Let's consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of the social learning theory explanation of aggression.

Strengths

  • Bandura's study was repeated multiple times, which makes its results reliable.

  • Bandura's study used a large sample size, which makes results easier to generalise to the population.

  • Phillips (1986)'s study supported Bandura's study. Rates of homicide increased up to a week after a boxing match was shown on TV. This finding shows us the violence people witnessed influenced their behaviour.

Weaknesses

  • The bulk of Bandura's research was done on children, who are especially suggestible. As a result, we might not be able to extrapolate his results to the adult population.
  • It may be unethical to put children in a situation that deliberately primes them to act aggressively. Their imitation of the adult participants is still genuine, along with any reinforcement they receive, which could suggest to them that aggression is desirable.
  • Some children (and people in general) may be more aggressive than others by nature or careless about following role models, which could mean that Bandura's findings lack validity.
  • Social learning theory relies on the person in question learning and observing the behaviours. Still, some aggressive behaviours are instantaneous reactions to a trigger, suggesting there is some inherent trait about aggression that is not learnt, contradicting the social learning theory.

Deindividuation

Deindividuation is when one loses their sense of self-awareness and individuality, reducing their inhibitions and self-restraint, and takes part in unsociable and antisocial behaviour due to this anonymity.

Deindividuation is when someone's behaviour is heavily influenced by the behaviour and norms of a larger group that they are a part of. As a result, people's perception of responsibility changes. They stop seeing themselves as individual moral agents but rather as part of a collective, with the norms of that group dictating their behaviour.

Festingert et al. (1952) introduced the term deindividuation.

LeBon (1895) used deindividuation to explain crown behaviour, stating that when we are in a crowd, the restraint placed on us by social norms is lifted because we are no longer identifiable. Then, the responsibility we feel for our actions also decreases and gets shared among the crowd, so there is also less personal guilt when one acts aggressively towards others whilst being part of a crowd.

Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression, Social psychological types of aggression by LeBon, StudySmarterCrowd behaviour, freepik.com

Zimbardo (1969) supported the theory of individuation, and put forward 2 types of behaviour:

Individuated behaviour - When a person self monitors and regulates their behaviour rationally, and is constrained and conforms to social norms.

Deindividuated behaviour - When a person stops self-monitoring and regulating their behaviour, loses self-awareness, and acts impulsive, emotional and irrational.

There are several things that encourage deindividuated behaviour, the main factor being anonymity, e.g. uniforms, masks, drugs, darkness, disguises, etc. Because of the consequences of anonymity, there is less self-awareness, which leads to a higher chance of aggressive acts being committed.

There are two types of self-awareness:

  • Private self-awareness - Focus on the self and how we think and behave. The way we focus on our own behaviour reduces when part of a crowd since we start to focus on the events around us instead. We become less thoughtful, evaluative and self-critical.
  • Public self-awareness - Focus on how we present ourselves to others. The way we focus on others' opinions and judgements of our actions also reduces when we're part of a crowd since anonymity is present. If we can't be identified, we can't be judged for our actions.

Hooded Electric Shock Study Zimbardo (1969)

Female students were recruited for what they thought was a study of 'learning'. A confederate had the role of a student and the participants were the teachers. One group (experimental group) had the uniform of lab coats with face-covering hoods, and would always be referred to as a group (deindividuation). The other (control) group wore their own clothes and were referred to as individuals. They had name tags and introduced themselves. The learner was described as either 'warm and honest' or 'critical and conceited' to both groups of participants.

They found that the experimental group gave x2 as many shocks, and also weren't affected by the description of the learner when administering the intensity of the shocks. This shows that deindividuation occurs when identity is removed and when this happens, people are more likely to show aggressive behaviour.

Evaluation of social-psychological theories of aggression – deindividuation

Let's consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of deindividuation.

Strengths

  • Research support provides evidence for deindividuation as an explanation of aggression. Deiner et al. (1976) observed American children trick or treating on Halloween. When children wore masks to people's houses in large groups, they were more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour (stealing sweets and money).

  • This study has high ecological validity since it was an observation that looked at natural behaviour in a natural environment, proving deindividuation can lead to aggressive behaviour in the real world.

Weaknesses

  • Gergen, Gergen and Barton's (1973) research questions deindividuation as an explanation of aggression. They put six men and six women who were strangers to each other in dark or lit rooms. They found that in the last 15 minutes, people in the darkroom started to get physical, in terms of half of them hugging, some becoming intimate, and 80% admitting feeling arousal since the usual norms of intimacy didn't apply in the darkroom. Therefore, deindividuation doesn't always lead to aggression but can lead to prosocial behaviour too. So, is it an adequate explanation?

  • Also, the deindividuation theory doesn't account for biological factors that have been proven to play a role in aggression, e.g. the hormone Testosterone, the MAOA gene variant, neurotransmitters, etc. So this theory isn't inclusive of all types of aggressive behaviour.

Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression - Key takeaways

  • The three main social psychological theories of aggression are the frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory, and deindividuation.
  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that anger, violence, and hostility result from being prevented from reaching a goal, which creates feelings of frustration. This frustration always results in aggression, and it can be displaced.
  • Social learning theory: Bandura (1965) theorised that human behaviour could be 'learned' through observation, and imitation is when a role model's behaviour is observed. Bandura concluded that behaviour imitation is an explanation of aggressive behaviour.
  • Deindividuation is when one loses their sense of individuality and takes part in unsociable and antisocial behaviour, e.g. when part of a crowd and self-awareness reduces. Zimbardo (1969) found that when participants were anonymous and part of a group, they delivered x2 higher intensity electric shocks than when they were identifiable and alone.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression

The three main social psychological theories of aggression are the frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory, and deindividuation.

Aggression is a physical or psychological behaviour that intends to harm others who don't wish to be harmed (Baron & Richardson, 1994).


There are different theories of aggression in psychology. They come from 4 main types of explanations:

  1. Biological explanation
  2. Ethological explanation
  3. Evolutionary explanation
  4. Social-psychological explanation


The social psychological theories are:

  1. Frustration-aggression hypothesis
  2. Social learning theory
  3. Deindividuation

The psychological factors (or social-psychological factors) of aggression include frustration (frustration-aggression hypothesis), observation and imitation of a role model (social learning theory) and being part of a group and being anonymous (deindividuation).

It's essential to study aggression in psychology since it is anti-social behaviour. Learning it helps us understand what the causes of aggression are so that we can try to prevent it or at least expect it in the cases where it could get out of control or seriously harm others. 

Social aggression is a type of anti social behaviour when social status and relationships are used to inflict emotional harm on others and damage people's reputation. It involves behaviours such as gossiping, threatening to end friendships and excluding others from society.

Final Social Psychological Explanation of Aggression Quiz

Question

Which psychologist conducted the Bobo doll experiment?

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Answer

Albert Bandura.

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Question

What is social learning theory?

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Answer

A theory that proposes new behaviour can be learned by observing and imitating others.

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Question

What were the three model groups in the 1961 experiment?

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Answer

Aggressive model group, non-aggressive model group, control group.

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Question

What were the results of the 1961 experiment?

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Answer

The children in the aggressive model group were more likely to display aggressive behaviour than those in the other two groups. Same-sex adults more influenced boys. Boys displayed much more physical aggression than girls; verbal aggression levels were similar.

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Question

What did Bandura want to investigate with the 1963 experiment?

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Answer

If there were any differences in aggressive behaviour after watching a film or cartoon model compared to a live model.

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Question

What were the results of the 1963 experiment?


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Answer

All three model groups showed similar increases in aggressive behaviour. Children will imitate aggressive behaviour they have witnessed regardless of how it is presented. Viewing aggressive displays is not cathartic.

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Question

What did Bandura want to investigate with the 1965 experiment?

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Answer

If vicarious reinforcement could influence children’s learned behaviour.

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Question

What were the results of the 1965 experiment?

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Answer

There was little difference between the reward and control groups; however, the punishment group displayed much less aggressive behaviour, especially girls. For all three groups, rewards (sweets, juice, stickers) led to significantly more aggressive behaviour.

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Question

What lessons can we take from the Bobo doll experiment?

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Answer

Children can learn behaviour such as aggression through the observation of others. This supports Bandura’s social learning theory. The experiment also has implications for the effects of media violence on children.

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Question

What are the ethical issues with the Bobo doll experiment?

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Answer

  • The aggression witnessed may have distressed the children. 

  • The aggressive behaviour they learned from the experiment may have stayed with them, causing behavioural problems later on. 

  • Although the children could not consent to participate in the study, it is assumed that their kindergarten teachers and parents did (presumptive consent). 

  • The children could not withdraw from the study.

  • No attempt was made to question them about the incident and explain that the adult was pretending.

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Question

What is the strength of laboratory experiments?

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Answer

They can demonstrate cause and effect.

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Question

How did the Bobo doll experiment have good reliability?

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Answer

The standardised procedures mean it is easy to replicate, also good inter-rater reliability.

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Question

What did Cumberbatch (1990) find in his study?

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Answer

Children who had never played with a Bobo doll were five times more likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour than children familiar with a Bobo doll. This suggests that the novelty value of the doll increases the likelihood that children will imitate the behaviour.

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Question

How did the Bobo doll experiment show demand characteristics?

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Answer

Bobo dolls are made to be hit and pushed. As a result, some have criticised the children for not acting aggressively. They were merely playing with the doll in the way they were expected to.

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Question

How did the Bobo doll experiment lack ecological validity?

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Answer

The age of the participants (children) was limited. It may be that observational learning influences young children, but this may cease as a person gets older. Therefore, it is difficult to generalise the results to the population as a whole.

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Question

What is the definition of deindividuation?

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Answer

Deindividuation is a phenomenon in which people exhibit antisocial and sometimes violent behaviour in situations where they believe they cannot be personally identified because they are part of a group.

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Question

How did psychologist Leon Festinger describe deindividuation?

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Answer

Festinger described deindividuation as situations where people cannot be individuated or isolated from others.

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Question

Le Bon stated that deindividuated behaviour arose through what three ways?

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Answer

  • Anonymity causes people to be unidentifiable, leading to a sense of untouchability and a loss of personal responsibility (private self-perception decreases).
  • This loss of personal responsibility leads to contagion – the feeling spreads through the crowd, and everyone starts to think and act the same way (reduced public self-awareness).
  • People in crowds are more prone to antisocial behaviour.

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Question

Give an example of how social learning (sports events) affects deindividuation.


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Answer

Some sporting events, such as football, draw huge crowds and have a long history of aggression and violence on the pitch and from fans. Conversely, other sporting events such as cricket and rugby also attract huge crowds but do not have the same problems.

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Question

In Zimbardo’s 1969 study, what were the findings?

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Answer

The participants in the anonymous group shocked the confederate longer than those in the control group.

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Question

How did deindividuation affect the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment?

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Answer

  • The guards experienced deindividuation through immersion in the group and the strong group dynamic.
  • The clothing of the guards and prisoners led to anonymity on both sides.
  • The guards did not feel responsible; this allowed them to shift personal responsibility and attribute it to a higher power (study conductor, research team) subsequently the guards said they felt someone official would stop them if they were being too cruel.
  • The guards had an altered temporal perspective (they focused more on the here and now than on the past and present).

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Question

Ed Diener proposed that deindividuation involved an aspect of what?

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Answer

Objective self-awareness.

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Question

How does objective self-awareness affect deindividuation?


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Answer

Objective self-awareness is high when attention is focused inward on the self, and people monitor their behaviour. It is low when attention is directed outward, and behaviour is not monitored. This decrease in objective self-awareness leads to deindividuation.

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Question

What did Diener et al. (1976) find in their study?

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Answer

Children that were not asked information about themselves and children in groups were more than twice likely to take more than one sweetie.

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Question

Is deindividuation always associated with negative behaviour? Give an example of a study.

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Answer

No, there are cases where group norms can have a positive influence. Johnson and Downing (1979) found that participants dressed as nurses shocked confederates less than the control group.

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Question

Who proposed the original frustration-aggression hypothesis?

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Answer

Dollard et al. (1939)

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Question

Briefly outline the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

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Answer

An attempt to achieve a goal is blocked, frustration occurs, aggressive drive is created, and aggressive behaviour is displayed.

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Question

Why can aggression not always be directed at the source of frustration? (3 reasons)


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Answer

The source may be:

  • Abstract, such as lack of money

  • Too powerful, and you risk punishment by showing aggression towards them

  • Unavailable at the time

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Question

Give an example of a real-world application of the frustration-aggression hypothesis?


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Answer

Scapegoating, where, in times of crisis and as levels of frustration amass ( for example, during an economic crisis), frustrated groups may release their aggression against a convenient target, often a minority group.

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Question

What did Berkowitz propose in his reformulation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis?


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Answer

Frustrations are still aversive events, but frustration produces aggressive inclinations only if it causes negative affect (feeling/emotion) in a person. It is negative affect, not frustration, that causes aggressive inclinations.

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Question

What did Berkowitz mean when he said negative affect produces ‘aggressive inclinations’?


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Answer

Negative affect does not automatically lead to aggressive behaviour, there are many factors that might prevent this (e.g. reappraisal of the situation).

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Question

What is a limitation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis shown by Bushman (2002)?


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Answer

The frustration-aggression hypothesis suggests that aggressive behaviour is cathartic, but Bushman (2002) found this is not the case.

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Question

Explain the procedure of Green (1968) study.

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Answer

Male university students completed a jigsaw puzzle, during which frustration was manipulated in one of three ways, an unattainable time limit to complete the jigsaw puzzle, another condition made it impossible to complete it, the third condition the participants were insulted by a confederate for failing to complete the jigsaw puzzle. After this, the participants gave (fake) electric shocks to the confederate whenever he answered incorrectly on another task.

Show question

Question

What were the results of Green (1968) study?


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Answer

The participants that were in the group who received insults from the confederate gave the highest level of shocks, followed by the group that ran out of time, followed by the impossible to solve jigsaw puzzle group. All three groups gave higher levels of shocks than a control group who did not experience any of the conditions.

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Question

What were the results of Dill and Anderson (1995) study?


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Answer

Justified frustration produced less hostile aggression than unjustified frustration but more hostile aggression than no frustration at all.

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Question

What were some methodological flaws to these studies?


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Answer

The study by Green (1968) only used male university students, making it difficult to generalise the results to females or populations outside university students. Likewise, the study by Dill and Anderson (1995) only used university students too.

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Question

What are the criticisms of the frustration-aggression hypothesis?


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Answer

  • Theoretical rigidity and overgeneralization

  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis does not explain how aggressive behaviour might arise in different social environments without provocation or feeling frustrated

  • Aggression can be a learned response and does not always happen due to frustration

Show question

Question

What are the 4 main types of explanations of aggression that are studied in psychology?

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Answer

The 4 main explanations of aggression that are studied in psychology are:

  1. Biological explanation
  2. Ethological Explanation
  3. Evolutionary Explanation
  4. Social Psychological Explanation

Show question

Question

What are the 3 main social psychological explanations of aggression?

Show answer

Answer

There are 3 main theories that attempt to explain aggression through social and psychological explanations. They are:

  1. Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis
  2. Social Learning Theory
  3. Deindividuation

Show question

Question

What is the social psychological explanation of aggression that includes imitation and observation?

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Answer

Social learning theory

Show question

Question

What is the social psychological explanation of aggression that includes anonymity?

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Answer

Deindividuation 

Show question

Question

What is the social psychological explanation of aggression that includes catharsis?


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Answer

Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

Show question

Question

Who developed the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis and when?

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Answer

Dollard et al (1939) 

Show question

Question

What is the 1st step in the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis?


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Answer

  1. A person attempts to achieve a goal but is blocked

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Question

What is the 2nd step in the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis? 

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Answer

  • They experience frustration

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Question

What is the 3rd step in the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis? 


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Answer

  • An aggressive drive is created

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Question

What is the 4th step in the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis? 


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Answer

  • They display aggressive behaviour


Show question

Question

What is the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis bases on? 


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Answer

Catharsis

Show question

Question

What is the definition of catharsis?

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Answer

Catharsis is when a repressed or strong emotion is released.


Show question

Question

What did Green (1986) find as support for the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis?

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Answer

Green (1986) found that the more frustrated participants when completing a jigsaw puzzle, the more shocks they administered to a learner confederate. 

Show question

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