Aggression and violence, nature or nurture
Aggression is a common behavior in humans. It is not necessary to regard aggressiveness in a person as a bad quality for it has been found to be necessary in animals and is a part of nature. The more aggressive animal in a species is generally more successful, powerful and gains control over food, territory and mates. Aggression is also a means of maintaining social order. Aggressiveness in this case becomes a necessity for Darwin’s survival of the fittest.
In the highly developed human, there is a negative form of aggressiveness called as malignant aggression where man causes harm or injury to another for the sole purpose of sadistic pleasure or revenge. These acts are generally premeditated or planned and it is this form of aggressiveness that should be discouraged in children. This form of aggressiveness is more often than not due to nurture and not nature. It results from negative emotions like frustration, hatred, prejudice, and fear or from depression or mental imbalance.
Children are exposed to violence from a very early age thanks to television, news and cases of domestic violence at home and quarrels in the school. Children have been found to learn from these experiences and behave in an aggressive manner because of this sort of exposure. But it has been found that the aggressiveness is an innate trait and is as much biological and genetical as it is environmental. Children who are aggressive and violent have been found to have parents and relatives who are violent and aggressive. There are two ways of looking at this. The child could be aggressive by nature as the gene of aggressiveness is prevalent in the family or the child can be violent by nurture as he sees violence on a daily basis and believes it to be a part of life. But the fact remains that a child, genes or otherwise, would not be prone to violent behavior unless he was brought up in a violent environment.
Statement of Study.
Aggression can be useful in some cases but when it becomes violent can be destructive. While many biologists claim that the genes precondition aggressive behavior in a person, psychiatrists and sociologists believe that man’s behavior is a reflection and result of the environment and society that he is brought up in. Various studies and observations prove that man’s aggression is neither solely because of nature or solely because of nurture. It is because of a combination of the two. Both heredity and environment are responsible for man’s intricate personality, including the areas of violence and aggression but environment has more influence on the person and the environment and method of bringing up the child can help control and discourage the aggressiveness in the child.
The news everyday is full of reports about rape, murders, wars and other forms of violence. But that is at a larger scale. Even in day to day life we come across acts of violence and aggression. Children’s fights among themselves, couples’ fights and arguments at the work place are all common happenings.
Each year in the United States alone, over 5 million children are directly exposed to violence of some sort or the other whether it is domestic violence, physical abuse or movies on television.
Aggression is a desire or intent to hurt or harm someone, not necessarily physically, and follow it up with an action with intent to harm that person. It is a noxious stimulus, which attempts to show authority, superiority and make a stand. It can be verbal, such as, insults, threats, accusations or sarcasm or physical in nature such as punishment, restrictions or physical abuse.
There are two main types of aggression – Affective aggression and Instrumental aggression. Affective aggression is simply anger and its goal is to injure and harm. Instrumental aggression is self – protection and defense and is seen in situations such as wars or by a victim against the perpetrator. Most violent behavior is a defensive response to perceived aggression. It is a reaction to an expected action.
Benign aggression is another name for instrumental aggression while the term malignant aggression is used to describe aggression whose aim is to hurt other for sadistic pleasure. Malignant aggression is a form of affective aggression.
Aggression is also a means of maintaining social order among many species. It is present in many animals, especially mammals, with animals competing with each other for food, dwelling spaces and mates. The stronger and more aggressive competitor is generally successful. Aggression therefore can be self – protective and useful but can also be destructive and violent. However, if aggression is an effective method among animals in maintaining social order and self – defense, reckless violence appears to be a poor survival mechanism.
Violence is heterogeneous and is generally impulsive, reactive or defensive and carried out in a moment of anger or fear. At other times it can be predatory and remorseless aggression. Violent behaviors can also be related to intoxication from alcohol or due to neuropsychiatric conditions. Violent acts may be the result of personal or cultural belief systems (political or religious terrorism) and can be directed against a specific victim (domestic violence) or a specific group (racism and bigotry against African – Americans, Jews or Homosexuals). Violence can also be sexualized as in the case of rape.
It is evident that the emotion of aggression does not exist alone. It is generally combined with other negative emotions such as fear, anger, and depression and in cases of planned violence, even prejudice and hatred.
The Nurture Theory
All the theories and hypothesis provided under the nurture theory support the view that man’s aggressiveness is conditioned by his environment, learning and his experiences.
Aristotle proposed that at birth, man’s mind is a blank slate or “tabula rasa”. One’s environment and experiences are recorded on it, promoting a particular behavior or personality in that individual.
Buddhism too focuses on the principle that human behavior can be controlled by altering one’s state of mind. According to Buddha’s teachings, suffering can be eliminated by removing from the mind, desire, greed, anger, passion, fear and other destructive impulses.
Certain social pressures and situations cause an aggravation of aggressiveness in daily life such as influence of media, pollution of various types, abusive parenting, overcrowding, racist or prejudiced views and a sense of humiliation and defeat or helplessness.
Behaviorists apply the “principles of social learning theory” where aggression is dealt in term of:
– Features of the environment that fosters the initial learning or acquisition of the behavior.
– Environmental influences that facilitate aggressive behavior (as said earlier).
– Environmental conditions that maintain aggressive behavior (as said earlier).
Pollution and Aggressiveness
Research has revealed that pollution such as noise and air pollution may not cause but increase probability of aggressive behavior. High levels of noise for long periods of time results in loss of hearing, hypertension, stress and a decrease in the efficiency level that results in frustration. Air pollution such as emission from cars and other motor vehicles causes an increase in heart and lung problems, fatigue and decrease in efficiency and lack of concentration.
Pollution of any type is an intensifier of already present behavior. An already aggressive person will only become more aggressive to the extent of becoming violent.
Frustration – Aggression Hypothesis
According to this hypothesis, “Aggression is always a consequence of frustration. The existence of frustration always leads to some form of aggression”. This basically means that when there is a hurdle blocking the path towards a goal, frustration sets in. as a result of frustration, aggression occurs which is a series of actions, not necessarily right ones, to attain that goal.
This hypothesis is not entirely true. Frustration does not always result in aggression and violence. People react in different ways when frustrated. They may bite their tongue, think about something else, attempt a different route to the goal, laugh it off or get depressed, and not necessarily angry. (Sarah McCawley, 2002)
Social Learning Theory
This model of Nurture theory denies that humans are innately aggressive and that aggression is learned by either observing aggressive model (movies, domestic violence or even the news) or by receiving payoffs following acts of aggression. These payoffs may be in the form of stopping aggression by others, gaining praise, status and respect by being aggressive, a sense of power and security or just reducing tension and stress. (Sarah McCawley, 2002)
In her article “The Nature of Aggression (or is it Nurture?)”, Sarah McCawley says that if a particular person or a specific group are perceived as offensive or dangerous or inferior than we are prone to be aggressive and irritable towards that person or group.
Our society and culture provides us with certain stereotypical ideas that direct our resentment, prejudice, discrimination and hatred towards certain types of people. If we dislike someone or some group, we are more inclined to hurting them.
This makes it evident as to how our thoughts influence our actions and every time we demean another human and look at him with hatred or contempt, we increase the potential for aggression.
(Sarah McCawley, 2002)
A few researchers feel that aggression is used at times as a means of recovering lost pride. When one’s pride is hurt, violence is an attempt to restore status and self – esteem by hurting the offender. The inability to find meaning in one’s life causes resentment and a sense of helplessness. In such cases malignant aggression is observed. Hitler was a prime example of malignant aggression, killing millions of innocent Poles, russians and Jews. This is all a result of an underlying sense of powerlessness, which compels them to prove to themselves and others that they are powerful. Stalin is another example who tortured and killed many political prisoners who opposed his policies. In daily life, such incidents can be noted in the behavior of a teacher or boss when he sees a student or worker break into a cold sweat.
Hauck in his work “Overcoming Frustration and Anger” beautifully explains how these negative emotions of powerlessness, frustration and depression an be overcome and thus control anger. Our own irrational ideas are the cause of these emotions.
Hauck described a woman who had been insulted and abused by an alcoholic husband for 30 years. She hated him. He had wasted enormous amounts of needed money on drinks. He was self-centered. The woman hated her husband and had contempt for him. When a rational emotive therapist told her “Your husband is sick. You are demanding that he change but he can’t.” she started to view her husband with sympathy and pity instead of hatred. She had created her own misery and anger by drowning in self pity. But when she looked at her husband as a patient who needed help, she looked upon herself as his caretaker and savior. Thus her change in attitude and thoughts helped her lose the anger that was inside her.