Post No.: 0111
Hostile aggression springs from anger or hostility – so being in a ‘hot’ state and acting in the heat of the moment. When angry, we usually lose perspective and may say or do things we’ll regret. Instrumental aggression also aims to harm others but mainly as a means to some other end – so being in a ‘cold and calculated’ state, such as terrorists trying to spread a message. Sometimes both components are involved when a person is violent.
If there has been some sort of grievance, violently and destructively getting it out of your system, whether doing it yourself or watching other people conduct in violence, is actually not a good way of reducing aggression – it just adds fuel to the fire. It may feel good temporarily but it’ll be a bad strategy in the long-term. ‘Practice makes permanent’, as it were – habits form – thus acts of aggression (e.g. shouting, or hitting or throwing objects) simply beget more acts of aggression, and possibly even retaliation and then escalation if others are involved. If one nevertheless feels that something definitely needs to be vented though, non-destructive and controlled aggression, such as a gym session or throwing stones into a lake, is better than smashing plates or punching walls.
Sulking isn’t a solution either though because here we’re still thinking about the grievance, but you can be assertive without being aggressive, and one way is by reframing accusatory ‘you’ messages with ‘I’ messages to inform others how their behaviour is affecting you (e.g. “I get irritated when the clothes are on the floor”). People tend to automatically become defensive when they’re directly accused of something, whether they actually did it or not, which means they won’t really be listening to you but trying to protect their reputation from any negative labels.
Watching violence on TV, video games or other media has arguably been proven to cause people to act more violently in some lab experiments (e.g. the Bobo doll experiment). Whether young children comprehend what they’re doing is violent or not, children and adolescents, in particular, tend to imitate what they see, and they’re very good at it, and this includes what they see on TV – including bullying, threats, insults and verbal harm, copycat crimes, partner violence, driving like a hooligan, divisive gossip, etc.. The media helps shape our attitudes to sex and sexual aggression (e.g. pornography trends shape a generation’s idea of what the normative sexual behaviours are). The media can lower inhibitions and cause a desensitisation to certain acts. And how would one know that one’s brain hasn’t been affected by the media when the only thing to determine that is one’s own brain, which could already have been influenced and shaped by the media?! (The same is true with psychoactive drug abuse and really anything else that shapes our beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. We don’t have a ‘control version’ of ourselves in a counterfactual world to compare with, but we can carry out experiments – although the ethics are often tricky regarding the subject of testing what promotes aggression or violence, especially in children.)
So as well as aggression erupting from within – learning and experience can also pull aggression out of us. By observing others, we may learn that aggression often pays (a ‘social learning theory’ of aggression). We can learn from others, as well as firsthand, that e.g. a person who harasses someone can sometimes (temporarily) get his/her own way. As with most social behaviours – we watch others act and note the consequences. So if intimidation seems to work then intimidation will pervade. If terrorism is rewarded with widespread, amplified, front-page media coverage then the terrorists’ goal of ‘terror’ has been successfully achieved (typically, the primary targets of attacks aren’t those who are injured or killed but those who are made to witness it through expansive media coverage. Of course news outlets have a very difficult or impossible job of reporting such public interest events without rewarding terrorism. And news consumer demand (similar to ‘rubbernecking’ to see what’s going on after a traffic accident) and media competition means that those news outlets that can and will reveal all the details to supply this demand of terrorist attack information will be rewarded for doing so too).
If a parent applauds the uncontrolled aggression of his/her child when playing sports then it’ll promote uncontrolled aggression in them. Anticipated payoffs influence the application of instrumental aggression hence a civilised society must make sure that only cooperative and non-violent conducts pay. Woof!
A positive side is that the power of imitation can be used to promote positive social behaviours, such as setting good examples of dispute resolution. This applies to anything really (e.g. TV dramas that tackle important issues like family planning, or seeing others learn something by not giving in). Children copy so if you shout then they’ll likely shout, and so forth. Hence parents should learn how to discipline without resorting to shouting or violence, such as by rewarding desirable behaviours and framing statements positively (e.g. saying, “When you’ve finished cleaning then you can go play” instead of, “If you don’t clean up then you’ll be grounded”), limiting TV and video game time (not to say that all TV shows or video games are bad influences but they must be age appropriate, and there’s such a thing as watching or playing excessively) and/or talking with one’s children about how unrepresentative most films/dramas and video games are with real life.
Knowing that certain things can reliably trigger aggression in ourselves or others, we can refrain from personal attacks and unrealistic expectations on or from others e.g. if you know someone else is always impatient then don’t take their vented frustrations for waiting personally, or if you know that someone else wasn’t to know that you like things to be a certain way then be reasonable on them. More generally with anyone – if someone has e.g. just watched their sports team receive a bad decision from the referee then it’s not a good precise moment to bring up something that could wait, or if you know that you don’t want to be distracted when e.g. rehearsing a speech then tell people beforehand that you want silence and practise in a place where there’s less chance of you being distracted. So plan your situations to avoid triggers and try to look at things from the other person’s perspective whilst you’re calm.
There’s a limit to the efficacy of punishment because most homicide is down to impulsive, hot, hostile aggression, and thus is mostly down to situational factors rather than is premeditated and dispositional in attribution – here, prevention measures in the environment is the best intervention (e.g. police patrols and arrests that disperse gangs, or reducing the availability of firearms). Cold, instrumental aggression, however, is best deterred via prevention (which can go back as far as how a person is raised, such as regarding their education, equity of opportunities and bullying experiences), rewards for desired behaviours and arguably severe punishments for undesired behaviours.
With private frustrations, writing down your feelings and using reason to overcome them can be cathartic. If you’re an independent onlooker and it’s safe then maybe give a frustrated person a furry cuddle to calm them down! You can sometimes halt an aggressive person by stating something cognitively confusing and out of context (e.g. say, “The wall outside my house isn’t four feet high” – this might distract and break their mental thoughts out of hostile aggression, hopefully long enough for them to calm down)! Show no fear too if you can because people would rather not fight someone who might just beat them up in return, albeit never escalate any aggression in return (i.e. don’t raise your voice or invade someone’s personal space to try to counter-intimidate them but be calm, unfazed, in control of the situation and de-escalatory).
Woof! Furrywisepuppy hopes that we can all learn, practise and remember to first pause and take a few long and deep breaths before saying or doing anything else in order to reduce our over-firing ‘fight or flight’ responses and to engage in thinking about the consequences over acting upon our instinctive impulses.