The Science of Aggression
Everyone can experience discontent and frustration for several reasons. These may lead to arguing with others and sometimes behaving aggressively toward them. This often happens for one or more of these reasons:
- Predisposition to anger;
- Experiencing a stressful situation;
- Coping with the loss of a loved one;
- Invasion of personal space;
- Difficulty dealing with rejection;
- Poor ability to manage emotional responses;
- Living in situations where aggression is considered normal.
This article will introduce the main theories of aggression and the role of proxemics in explaining aggressive behaviors.
Causes of Aggressive Behavior in Daily Life: Table of Contents
- Family Fights vs. Quarrels Between Strangers
- Quarrelsomeness and Aggressive Attitude
- Theories of Aggression: Lorenz and Bandura
- Deindividuation Explains Aggressive Behaviors in a Group
- Personal Space Violation and Aggressive Behaviors
- The Link Between Stress and Aggressive Behaviors
- Psycho-Physical Health Care Reduces Aggressive Behaviors
1. Family Fights vs. Quarrels Between Strangers
Quarrels between people linked by bonds of love, affection, and kinship occur above all for:
- betrayals, and
- economic reasons.
Sometimes, they may have serious consequences, such as femicide or filicide.
Aggressive behaviors between acquaintances or strangers are often the result of:
- denied rights,
- violation of personal spaces, or
- real or alleged suffered wrongs.
Aggressive behaviors between strangers often occur for futile reasons.
2. Quarrelsomeness and Aggressive Attitude
Quarrelsomeness is the direct evolution of an aggressive attitude and is most frequently observed in those who bully others. In variable parts, it is innate or learned by imitation of others.
Aggressive behavior manifests itself with words and paraverbal language, often expressed on an unconscious level. The term derives from the Latin aggredior, which means "I walk forward," and refers, in general, to all concrete or fantasized behaviors aimed at the destruction of other people and also of ourselves.
3. Theories of Aggression: Lorenz and Bandura
Konrad Lorenz (Vienna November 7, 1903 – Vienna February 27, 1989) was an Austrian psychologist and zoologist and is commonly considered the founder of ethology. He is best known for his theory of aggression as an instinctive behavior, a natural impulse channeled and institutionalized more or less effectively by the society in which the individual lives.
Albert Bandura (Mundare December 4, 1925 – Stanford July 26, 2021) was a Canadian psychologist known for the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), which describes the individual as someone capable, through cognitive processes, of planning and taking responsibility based on their own behavior.
|Konrad Lorenz||Albert Bandura|
It is the result of a natural impulse.
It is a conscious behavior.
Role of Society
It channels and institutionalizes individual behavior.
It is limited, as the individual is aware and responsible for his own actions.
These are two discordant theories that attempt to explain the nature of aggression. More recent studies have shown that imitation is instrumental in cognitive development.
Manifestations of violence are taken as a model, especially if aggressive subjects receive a sort of reward that can be represented, for example, by praise or even indirect gratification, as is the case in becoming popular on social networks. Even the images of violence we may see daily greatly influence the development of aggressive behavior, especially in children and frustrated people.
4. Deindividuation Explains Aggressive Behaviors in a Group
Philip Zimbardo (born March 23, 1933) is an American psychologist who defined the concept of deindividuation: a reduction in the sense of individuality and personal responsibility proven by the one who behaves in a group or a crowd differently than in an everyday context.
5. Personal Space Violation and Aggressive Behaviors
Whether learned or innate, aggression is the basis of increasingly widespread litigious behaviors in environments where many people live together in well-defined spaces. This happens because everyone has defense mechanisms triggered when unknown people invade personal space.
Personal Space and Psycho-Physical Well-Being
The human being needs to manage his personal space. Proxemics (a discipline that studies space organization as a communication system) concludes that personal space boundaries are essential for psycho-physical well-being. Their constant and unavoidable violation in crowded places helps to unleash aggressive behavior.
The Four Proxemic Spaces
Edward Hall (Webster Groves May 16, 1914 – Santa Fe July 20, 2009) was a Canadian anthropologist who studied proxemics in depth, defining four distances (proxemic spaces):
- Public Space: More than 12 feet from the person is the distance beyond which no particular defenses are triggered;
- Social Space: Between 4 and 12 feet from the person is the space within which people become attentive and watchful towards strangers but remain neutral towards those they know;
- Personal Space: Between 1.5 and 4 feet from the person is the off-limits area in which the entry of family members or acquaintances is generally accepted or tolerated, while the intentional proximity of strangers is lived with annoyance and malaise. The unintentional violation of this space on public transport or on a crowded sidewalk is acceptable, but it is always lived on alert at an unconscious level;
- Intimate Area: Between 0 and 18 inches from the person is the off-limits area to which only close people have free access. A voluntary or involuntary invasion of acquaintances or strangers always triggers a defense reaction that can be more or less explicit based on personal circumstances and experiences.
In people's psychology, all the proxemic spaces extend to personal assets, for example:
- cars, or
Properties become an extension of people, and their violation triggers the same defenses that involve personal space. Each person has their own tolerance threshold, but everyone reacts in front of an intruder who enters their house. However, it becomes an excessive reaction to get angry if some children play soccer nearby and accidentally throw their ball into our garden.
6. The Link Between Stress and Aggressive Behaviors
There is a close link between stress and aggressive behaviors: the more stressed a person is, the greater the tendency not to control anger. The continuous and prolonged invasions in personal spaces are undoubtedly stressful for most people, and in fact, high-risk situations that may lead to aggressive behavior are:
- getting stuck in traffic,
- living in crowded condominiums, and
- waiting a long time in closed rooms.
Giorgio Nardone, a psychologist at the Italian Research, Training and Psychotherapy Institute, reported the increase in aggressive behavior after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, probably related to great uncertainties and increasing frustration. This has led to a general rise of:
- aggression towards medical personnel,
- condominium disputes for futile reasons,
- bullying in schools,
- mobbing in the workplace, and
- people who run away after causing road accidents.
7. Psycho-Physical Health Care Reduces Aggressive Behaviors
On a personal level, a good emotional education from a young age allows people to recognize and manage negative moments, limiting the conditions that favor aggressive behaviors.
It also becomes essential to take care of psycho-physical health, for example by following these good habits:
- sleep at least eight hours every night,
- avoid prolonged stressful situations,
- do not use drugs or abuse alcohol,
- spend quality time with your family,
- enjoy moments of leisure, and
- be in touch with nature.
On a social level, people who have experienced aggressive behavior must be helped through constant health care. Schools and places of social aggregation should have mental health specialists capable of recognizing the symptoms of aggressive behavior to prevent and act promptly in an emergency.
- Lorenz, K. (1974). Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins. Regno Unito: Methuen.
- Bandura, A. (2016). Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live with Themselves. Regno Unito: Worth Publishers.
- Sambo, C. F., & Iannetti, G. D. (2013). Better Safe Than Sorry? The Safety Margin Surrounding the Body Is Increased by Anxiety. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(35), 14225-14230.
- Covid. l'uomo post-pandemia è più fobico e aggressivo. QS - Quotidiano Sanità. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2022.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2022 Giovanna Rezzoagli Ganci