What Is Aggression?

What is aggression? What is the purpose behind it? What factors contribute to aggression? In psychology, the term aggression refers to a range of behaviors that can result in both physical and psychological harm to yourself, others, or objects in the environment. This type of behavior centers on harming another person either physically or mentally. Aggression should also be distinguished from being angry which is an emotional reaction to an event but can just stay that – an emotion. Just because someone is angry does not mean they will necessarily act on it and engage in aggressive behavior.

While we often think of aggression as purely in physical forms such as hitting or pushing, psychological aggression can also be very damaging. Aggression can take a variety of forms, including: physical, mental, verbal and emotional. Humans engage in aggression when they seek to cause harm or pain to another person. Aggression takes two forms depending on one’s motives: hostile or instrumental. Hostile aggression is motivated by feelings of anger with intent to cause pain; a fight in a bar with a stranger is an example of hostile aggression. In contrast, instrumental aggression is motivated by achieving a goal and does not necessarily involve intent to cause pain; a contract killer who murders for hire displays instrumental aggression. Aggression can serve a number of different purposes, including:

  • To express anger or hostility

  • To assert dominance

  • To intimidate or threaten

  • To achieve a goal

  • To express possession

  • A response to fear

  • A reaction to pain

  • To compete with others

But what causes a person to be aggressive? What factors influence a person to be aggressive? A number of different factors can influence the expression of aggression, including:

  1. Biological Factors: Men are more likely than women to engage in physical aggression. While researchers have found that women are less likely to engage in physical aggression, they also suggest that women do use non-physical forms, such as verbal aggression, relational aggression, and social rejection.

  2. Environmental Factors: How you were raised may play a role. People who grow up witnessing more forms of aggression are more likely to believe that such violence and hostility are socially acceptable. Bandura's famous Bobo doll experiment demonstrated that observation can also play a role in how aggression is learned. Children who watched a video clip where an adult model behaved aggressively toward a Bobo doll were more likely to imitate those actions when given the opportunity.

  3. Physical Factors: Epilepsy, dementia, psychosis, alcohol abuse, drug use, and brain injuries or abnormalities can also influence aggression.

It is important to understand what causes our aggressive behavior and try to modify it as it can lead to dire consequences and also be a danger to ourselves and those around us.

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