Aggression Sociology Definition


Aggression is a hostile way of thinking, a strong sense of self-assertion, or a violent or hurtful action. The intent to harm another person verbally or physically indicates aggressive behavior. In humans, feelings like wrath or fear often underlie aggressive behavior. The idea of aggressiveness is quite broad and encompasses many different types of conduct, including verbal abuse, street crime, marital and child abuse, group conflict, and war.

Hostile and Instrumental aggression 

Any action intended to hurt, injure, or cause suffering to another living being or group of creatures is considered aggressive. For conduct to be regarded as actual aggressiveness, the victim of the aggression must want to refrain from engaging in it. Therefore, according to its ultimate goal, aggression is also classified.

An aggressive act motivated by anger and designed to cause harm or suffering is called hostile aggression.

Violent conduct considered a means to an objective other than causing harm or distress is instrumental aggression or cognitive aggression. For instance, torture may be used on an enemy combatant to get valuable knowledge, even if the perpetrators may not have resentment or hostility against their victim.

Three variables involved in aggression

Many theories and models of aggressiveness have developed to explain these various types of behavior. These theories and models often fall into different categories depending on their particular areas of concentration. Based on the three crucial factors present anytime any aggressive act or series of actions is undertaken, the most widely used classification method divides the diverse approaches to aggressiveness into three distinct categories.

1. The aggressor is the first variable.

2. The second factor is the environment or social setting where the hostile act(s) occur.

3. The target or victim of aggression is the third factor.

Variable 1 – Aggressor – Theories of why people become aggressive

There are several contrasting hypotheses on why individuals could become hostile.

A. Instinctual or biological theories

Many of them have an innate or biological tenor. For instance, Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher, said that because humans are by nature hostile, only great intellect and effort can prevent a “war of all against all.”

This premise is shared by several schools of psychology, which contend that extensive educational or “socialization” procedures together with a significant amount of social control may effectively prevent aggressiveness. Individuals must constantly be praised for their polite behavior and disciplined for engaging in unacceptable aggressive behavior since socialization alone is insufficient.

Some believe that inborn, biological elements are the primary cause of violent desires and behaviors. According to Sigmund Freud, everyone is born with a death instinct that predisposes us to engage in various forms of violence, including self-directed aggression like suicidal thoughts and acts. Mental illness may also result from unhealthy or unnatural repression of violent desires.

According to several well-known theories that argue for a biological foundation for aggressiveness, humans have a deficient brain suppression of violent impulses compared to other animals. They have a solid drive to acquire property and territorialism.

It is suggested that this impulse explains aggressive actions ranging from small-scale street crime to major conflicts. Aggressive inclinations also seem to be significantly influenced by hormonal variables. For instance, studies on animals have demonstrated that testosterone injections promote aggressive behavior.

Both men and women who have been convicted of violent crimes have much greater hormone levels than those who have been convicted of non-violent crimes. In addition, numerous studies comparing various age groups, racial/ethnic groupings, and cultural groups also show that males are generally more likely than women to participate in multiple violent behaviors such as physical assault.

The idea that males typically have greater levels of hormones than women is one reason men tend to be more aggressive. However, quantities differ across people based on several variables in addition to gender.

B. Theory of Frustration and Aggression in the Social Environment

Sociological theories of aggressiveness focus on how a person interacts with their social environment rather than their biological foundation or psychological superstructure.

Frustration-aggression hypothesis holds that violent behavior happens when intentional activity is interrupted. Children may assault other children, for instance, if others steal their toys. However, this hypothesis has come under fire for its failure to account for the cases in which dissatisfaction results in behaviors other than aggressiveness.

The frustration-aggression hypothesis has also been linked to earlier work by Sigmund Freud. He postulated that when pleasure-seeking or pain-avoidance behaviors are blocked, frustration always results in aggression, either directed at the perceived source of interference or (if inhibited) directed elsewhere. Later, Freud believed that violence resulted from Thanatos, the death drive.

C. Social Learning theories and perspectives

According to the social learning theory, people pick up aggressive inclinations and behaviors by seeing others act aggressively. Modeling, which refers to people’s propensity to copy other people’s behavior, is critical to this process.

Numerous studies have shown that people are more inclined to behave aggressively after seeing aggressive behaviors, particularly aggression attitudes displayed in a positive limelight. Additionally, studies have indicated that children who grew up in families where domestic violence occurred are far more likely to commit domestic violence than adults.

Researchers have concluded that particular youngsters who grow up in abusive environments learn that physical aggressiveness is acceptable. It could also help desensitize kids to the consequences of hostility at a young age.

People may also behave aggressively because it might be rewarding, which is another aspect of the social learning hypothesis. Through “reinforcement,” behavioral patterns are created when people are socialized. This implies that we maintain behavioral patterns that bring about rewards while ceasing or reducing those that bring about punishments or adverse effects. Therefore, violent activities are more likely to be seen as a practical means to the desired goal if one learns that violence is more likely to result in a positive outcome than a bad one.

Violence results from persuasive socialization and social control in certain learning theories. In other words, even in the absence of dissatisfaction, aggressive behavior—particularly violent behavior occurs when anticipated.

When the use of force, such as fist fighting, is linked with masculinity, for instance, members of a subculture may learn to act in line with violent standards that have been presented to them as socially acceptable. 

Front-line troops and gang members may believe violence is appropriate and suitable because they have been raised to think so. In addition, they expect to gain respect and status if they fight successfully and want to escape criticism should they “chicken out.”

D. Psychopathology or sociopathology as a phenomenon

Psychopathology or sociopathology is a second explanation for violent conduct. As a result of how similar the illnesses and symptoms are, these phrases are commonly used interchangeably. The main distinction between the two is that sociopathology is believed to have a social origin, while psychopathology is believed to have a biological base, such as childhood trauma. In either scenario, the person with this condition feels somewhat cut off from the social norms of their environment. The incapacity to completely empathize with the experiences or sentiments of others in their social context is often present along with this separation.

These interrelated elements may cause the person to exhibit patterns of conduct that include unwarranted and abnormally high levels of verbal and physical aggressiveness. In addition, some argue that children today are more likely to experience factors contributing to this condition because modern society is characterized by such a high percentage of substantial lifestyle change, interruption, and social disconnectedness, such as increasing divorce rates.

A broad range of additional elements, including drugs, alcohol, and verbal and physical provocation, have also been demonstrated in the study to have substantial effects on the incidence of violent conduct.

Variable 2: How the environment influences aggressiveness

Aggression is a widespread and complicated phenomenon, and various circumstances impact the people participating. Therefore, the existence of anger or tension on occasion is an essential factor to take into account. In general, the stopping of action that is goal-directed is referred to as frustration.

Many early psychologists and social psychologists felt that frustration served as a prelude to all forms of aggressiveness, an idea that came to be known as the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

Research on this subject, however, shows that anger does not always translate into violent behavior. Whether dissatisfaction finally manifests as violent conduct depends on a complicated interaction of elements. For instance, the risk of doing an aggressive act is raised if the victim believes it would remove the source of their annoyance.

Aggression decreases if it is not thought of as a potential cure. The impact of environmental stresses is closely tied to the phenomena of frustration and violence. The correlation between high temperatures and numerous violent crimes is an excellent illustration of how stress affects aggressiveness.

According to research, violent crimes—murder, assault, etc.—increase considerably in hot weather. Additionally, research on the urban riots of the 1960s demonstrates a direct link between extreme heat and the prevalence of riot violence.

According to laboratory research, when exposed to stressors like heat and loud noises, a person is more prone to become aggressive if they feel trapped.

Aggression is substantially less likely to occur when individuals believe they can change or avoid the stressor. In addition, the prevalence of aggressiveness has been linked by other research to a range of environmental stresses.

According to the sociocultural view on aggressiveness, the type and content of the popular culture in which a person lives is the primary situational factor of aggression and violence. In addition, it is argued that elements like the abundance and accessibility of firearms, the use of the death sentence by the government, and the institutionalization of violence in sports—mainly contact sports—foster a culture of violence.

Violence and hostility are often shown in the media, incorporating another aspect of this society. The predisposition toward aggressive conduct significantly correlates with media violence exposure in almost all studies. So, from a sociocultural standpoint, social standards that people are exposed to in daily life have a significant role in shaping individuals’ propensity for violence.

Variable 3: Aggressive act’s target or victim

The target or victim of the violent act is the third important factor in aggressiveness. The target’s racial and gender demographics comprise this variable’s component. These traits mostly rely on the sort of aggressiveness that is being employed.

For instance, it has been shown that males are far more likely than women to be victims of crimes like murder or assault. However, when researchers look at homicide among spouses or male/female cohabiting pairs, women are substantially more likely to be killed than males.

It has been shown that male and female children are harmed at nearly similar rates regarding this problem. 

Most racial and ethnic hostility is intraracial or aimed towards members of the same racial or ethnic group.

Although white people are more likely to be the targets of inter-racial violence, most racial and ethnic minorities in the United States have more victimization rates than white people.

The victim’s ability to get revenge on the attacker is a significant problem that goes beyond the fundamental demographic aspect of violence. Typically, aggressiveness is less likely and less severe if the victim has a sizable capacity for retaliation. This dynamic is especially important in aggressive situations involving a lot of thinking and consideration. Retaliatory capability and other logical arguments against aggressiveness are less effective when there is a high level of emotion, drug or alcohol use, or both. The inadequate ability for quick retaliation of certain victims, such as mistreated children or rape victims, is also believed to have some role in the prevalence of these crimes.

The psychological effects of violence on victims and how it could change future behavioral patterns and coping mechanisms are the last concern relating to victims of aggression. Learned helplessness is one idea that highlights this issue. Research on this phenomenon showed that even when escape became feasible, animal test subjects ceased attempting to avoid aggressiveness as soon as they realized that hostility, such as electric shocks, was inescapable.

Several circumstances complicate the applicability of this idea to human conduct. Still, many people think it may help explain why some aggressor victims cannot escape violent or abusive situations even when they have the chance to do so.

When evaluating the effects of violence on victims in this way, the main issue is that it is simple to attribute the aggressiveness to the victim. However, it also becomes feasible to develop practical therapy programs and therapies for positively coping with the issue by better understanding typical reactions to aggressiveness.

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