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Paper Topic:

Violence and Aggression in Humans: 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 . 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 INTRODUCTION

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

Defining Aggressiveness

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 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 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

(Hauck , 1974

The television is the one major factor that develops aggressive behavior in humans . Viewing of a short film that portrays aggression , as a positive response is enough to make children aggressive . One can just see aggression and become aggressive and start to imitate

When the good guy beats up or kills the bad guy , the message that the child gets is that aggression and violence is acceptable if you are in the right and it is for a good cause (Derlega and Janda , 1981

The Newss too seem to thrive on violence and use it as their selling point . The amount of hype and exaggeration involved is unbelievable . The whole perpetually carries news only of war death and crimes . One would imagine that there was no progress or constructive development or technological and scientific discovery or inventions taking place on earth . George Bernard Shaw rightly said Newss are unable , seemingly , to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization (Phillips , 1983

Neurologists Ann Barnet and Richard Barnet provide an entertaining yet educational book on what goes on in a child 's mind and provides useful tips and advice on how to bring up your child . The Barnets ' have drawn on their experiences in the book making it a practical guide for first time parents . They are careful to remind that Neither neuroscience developmental psychology , nor cultural anthropology tells us that there is only one right way to raise a child . The method , by which your child develops into the person you wish him to be , is the right way to raise your child ! They also express concern for children worldwide who are suffering from less-than-optimal social and economic conditions and consequently are missing out on their full potential

Some of the interesting and important chapters in the book are How the Brain Takes Shape Empathy , Conscience , and Moral Development ' and Caring for Children (Richard Barnet Ann Barnet , 1998

The Nature Theory

The argument for nature theory surrounds the possible biological reasons why human aggression is exhibited . Aggression may have a chemical hormonal , or genetic basis . Elevated levels of serotonin or testosterone in the body have been associated with behavior diss . But there is no clear indication that aggression is inherent . Lorenz proposed the theory of Catharsis where he says that aggressive tendencies and emotions tend to build up inside a human and are not released during everyday activity . This only increases stress and frustration with aggressiveness as the end result . Naturally when a person is stressed or emotionally volatile , hormonal levels will be higher than usual in the body . Lorenz suggests that regular physical exercise and activities do reduce aggressive tendencies , but only for a short time . The best way of using catharsis is to be aggressive and attack the source of the problem to eliminate the aggression . This idea however , is somewhat circular in its reasoning (Lorenz , 1966

They say that aggression has evolved as a behavioral norm in humans because it facilitates survival and adaptation . For example , inter-male fighting may be an adaptive form of aggression because it assures the most desirable spacing of animals within a given territory . These acts of aggression are necessary and may be innate . But what we generally mean by violence is malignant aggression where aggression and violence is carried out with the sole purpose of harming anther without any actual reason . This may be premeditated or planned , something that natural aggressiveness has nothing to do with . In a time of emergency all humans tend to be aggressive to protect oneself but it has been found that the violent criminals and killers or children who get into fights often , grew up in a violent environment and lacked a happy , non - violent domestic life

Dean Hamar in Living with our Genes ' is careful not to say that solely our DNA determines our personalities . Hamar argues that building character (our flexibility and control over nature ) can control undesirable qualities of temperament (what we are born with . This just goes to show that although nature may have a role in aggressive behavior of certain people , it is their nurturing that decides their final behavior patterns (Dean Hamer , 1998 Freudian Theories

Freudian theories give some credit for aggressive behavior to nature but always connects it in the end to one of the nurture theories which again goes to show that nurture has a greater influence on man then nature

Freud 's Instinct Theory is based on the assumption that two primitive forces - life and death instincts , oppose each other in our subconscious and this is the origin of all desires and aggression . Freud asserts that this process is void of thought patterns , and driven solely and entirely by our instincts - the aim being satisfaction . Aggression is the main representative of the death instinct . This theory appears biological but like said earlier , instinct is a conditioned response based on man 's experiences in society . Freud came to believe in a death or aggressive instinct because he saw so much violence , sadism , war , and suicide in his life . This goes to show how influenced he was by his own environment ! A big flaw in this model is that Freud is unable to give a proper source for the aggression making it difficult to accept his theory (Freud , 1967

Developmental neglect and traumatic stress during childhood creates violent , remorseless children and this is characterized by high levels of serotonergic , noradrenergic and dopaminergic brain systems

What is necessary for man 's development is the socialization process that is , becoming a mature person by taming the savage , destructive impulses and this can be done only by interacting with a non - violent mature society . Under socialized development and experience - based imbalance predisposes a host to neuropsychiatric problems


The various literature reviews and surveys and experiments make one thing clear . There is a certain amount of biological influence on man 's aggressive nature and this serves the purpose of self-preservation and for maintaining social status and social . But violent (not just aggressive ) acts , that too malignant ones with an intent to derive sadistic pleasure or cause immense harm or even kill is not natural Such emotions and thoughts are a result of man 's development and his experiences in society . Man 's personality and ideas are formulated when he is still a child . Therefore , a lot depends on the environment that he is brought up in and the attitude and methods of the parents in bringing up the child . There are certain external forces such as influence of media , pollution of various types , overcrowding , racist or prejudiced views and a sense of humiliation and defeat or helplessness that aggravate aggressiveness and are harmful to the child 's development Boredom , a sense of helplessness , powerlessness , frustration , depression or lost pride and humiliation are various psychological factors that make man resort to violence , even more so if he has been brought up in a violent environment Conclusion

Not all aggression is the same . Some are necessary while others are destructive . Although hormones and chemicals are present in the body from birth , the brain regulates their production and the brain mediates all human behavior based on its experiences and knowledge gained from these experiences . But the biological properties of the brain are the result of genotype too and not developmental experiences alone . The two are not exclusive of each other but have a mutual relation where nurture has the upper hand and is the more decisive factor

Man does not become what he is predetermined to become by his genes . He becomes what the society he lives in and his experiences and learning make him but within his genetic limitations

There is no one factor that causes aggression and therefore no specific answer can be provided . It is a combination of things but whether it 's caused by nature or nurture , the wise answer would be a combination of both .Bibliography Lorenz , K . Z . On Aggression . New York : Harcourt . 1966 Derlega , V Janda , L . H . Personal adjustment : The psychology of everyday life (2nd Ed ) Glenview , IL : Scott , Foresman and Co . 1981 Mednick , S . A , Gabrielli , W . F Hutchings , B . Genetic influences in criminal convictions : Evidence from an adoption cohort . Science , 1981 Olweus , D . The stability of aggressive reaction pattern in human males A review . Psychological Bulletin . 1979 Averill , J . Anger and aggression . New York : Spring-Verlag . 1983 Hauck ,

. Overcoming depression . Phil , PA : Westminster Press . 1973 Hauck ,

. Overcoming frustration and anger . Phil , PA : Westminster Press . 1974 Zillmann , D . Hostility and aggression . Hillsdale , NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates . 1979 Judith Rich Harris The Nurture Assumption : Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do , Free Press , 1998 Sarah McCawley The Nature of Aggression (or is it Nurture , Internet Freud , S . The interpretation of dreams . New York : Avon . 1967 Lorraine Gordon and Duncan Smith The Nature of Human Aggression , Miami University . 2000 Phillips , D .P The impact of mass media violence on U .S . homicides American Sociological Review , 1983 ...

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