Aggression – Biological Theory vs Behaviorist Theory Aggression is a problem that affects all members of society. There is no doubt that aggression pays off for some. Parents who yell and threaten punishment get results. The child who hits the hardest gets the toy. The brother who is willing to be the most vicious in a fight wins. The teacher who gives the hardest test and threatens to flunk the most students usually gets the most study time from students.
The spouse who threatens to get the maddest gets their way. The male who acts the most macho and aggressive gets the praise of certain groups of males. For decades psychologists have attempted to find the causes of aggression. The focus of this paper will be on the biological as well as the behavioral theory of aggression. The goal being, to better understand the issue of aggression in hopes of gaining some knowledge on dealing with it in a positive manner. Biological theorists suggest that aggression is caused by some genetic or biological factor.
Maxon (1998), a leading theorist proposed a theory that one’s genes affect one or more types of aggression in mice, which may be applied to humans as a genetic explanation of aggression. Many researchers believe that aggression is caused by some genetic or biological factor, and thus believe that cases involving aggression should be treated chemically. These views of genetic or material essentialism claim that not only are physical characteristics of an individual determined by genetic information, but one’s social roles, behaviors, and relationships also have a biological-genetic base (Kegley, 1996). Growing evidence points to the conclusion that biological factors do predispose some individuals toward aggression. Through much research, it was found that people who suffer from reduced levels of serotonin are more likely proned to suffer from reduced abilities to control their aggressive impulses. These findings lend support to the view that biological factors do indeed play an important role in at least some forms of aggression.
There are those who believe that aggression is caused by having access to guns, being a victim of abuse at the hands of parents and peers, or by being immersed in a culture that glorifies violence and revenge. But the fact is that there isn’t one cause. You need a particular environment imposed on a particular biology to turn a child into an aggressor. The dawning realization of the constant back-and-forth between nature and nurture has resurrected the search for the biological roots of violence (Harris, 1998). Childhood experiences appear to be especially powerful, because a child’s brain is more malleable than that of an adult. A young brain is extra vulnerable to hurt in the first years of life.
A child who suffers repeated abuse, neglect as well as terror experiences physical changes in his brain. The result is a child who shows impulsive aggression. A child who hits others when made fun of or put down. Other children can become unresponsive when exposed to violence. These children can many times become antisocial.
One example of such a child is Kip Kinkel, who murdered both of his parents and injured some school classmates. Opposingly, behaviorist theorists suggest that most behaviors originate through learning processes. Watson thought that people’s behavior, whether good or bad could be explained by learning experiences (Nelson, Israel, 1997). In addition to a strong emphasis on learning and environment, Watson was committed to testing ideas by the experimental method (Nelson, Israel, 1997). The law of Effect contributed by E.L.
Thorndike, states that behavior is shaped by its consequences. If the consequence is satisfying the behavior will be strengthened in the future; if it is uncomfortable the behavior will be weakened. Thorndike’s claims were later substantiated by B. F. Skinner; another well respected leading theorist.
During the early years of a child’s life, parents control the child’s experiences of frustration, gratification, determine whether the child is reinforced for aggressive or non-aggressive behavior. Parents serve as models for their child to imitate. The parent who uses physical aggression in punishing his child is serving as an aggressive model. The child, through imitation, may be acquiring aggressive response patterns although he is seemingly being taught that aggression is bad. It is not surprising then that it has been found that the severity of parental punishment for aggression is associated with the child’s own display of aggression.
Children many times pick up their aggressive behavior in school, on the playground, from friends, and especially from television, movies and books. It has been demonstrated that we can learn to be aggressive by merely viewing a short film that shows aggressiveness as an acceptable response. Such shows for children include Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Batman just to name a few. One can just see aggression and then imitate it. By the time we are just five years of age we have either learned to be kind and caring or aggressive.
A factor that can lead to an aggressive child is having a parent who uses loud outbursts or violence to control the child. The child sees this as “normal” behavior and learns that this type of behavior is acceptable, when in today’s society it is unacceptable behavior. The best way to predict if a child will be an aggressor is to observe his early behavior. Behavioral theorists emphasize that behavior is a result of a process of learning from observing. What actions pay off and what works.
This theory simplifies human behavior by neglecting the biological aspects and other significant factors influencing our behavior. Genetic and biological theories of aggression both have strong points as well as weak points. Causation is not well established in genetic theories. If it is found that one gene exists in aggressive individuals and not in non-aggressive individuals it is not determined if the genetic information causes aggression or if aggression causes a change in genetic information. Biological theories are strong in that the choice of treatment is obvious and it has been shown to be effective. Genetic theories’ weakness is that it does not explain every case of aggression. These theories also put the responsibility within the individual.
The bottom line of biological theorists is that a person’s environment does not affect his aggressiveness. A weakness of behaviorist theory is that it seems unrealistic to think that all cases of aggression are learned in a stimulus-response manner. Aggression can be learned in other ways, such as through modeling and imitation. Both biological theories and behavioral theories have some weaknesses due to the fact that they do not have immense amounts of research to support them. The theories do not effectively explain the development of aggression in children.
In closing, there is still an immense amount of work to be done in explaining the development of aggression and its true causes. There will always be one side who says there is a certain factor that causes aggression, while the opposing side will give a completely different cause. Many people believe that humans are violent because we are naturally and unavoidably aggressive. This widely held theory provides us with harmful expectations, self-fulfilling prophesies, and with excuses for being aggressive. The good news is that the evidence shows that humans can in the right circumstances and with appropriate training be kinder to one another. The bad news is that thus far, we seem to be loosing the battle against violence. We are all exposed to a myriad of responses to frustration, but in many ways the message again is: aggression gets results.