Aggression is a behavioral characteristic that refers to forceful actions or procedures (such a deliberate attack) with intentions to dominate or master. It tends to be hostile, injurious, or destructive, and is often motivated by frustration (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 1995). For an individual, aggressive behavior is considered understandable and normal under appropriate circumstances, but when it is frequent, intense, lasting, and pervasive, it is more likely to be a symptom of a mental disorder. Likewise, aggression between groups, can be in the form of healthy competition, but can become harmful when unfair or unjust disadvantage or frustration is perceived, leading to hostility (Brown, 1986).
Psychopathy is a mental disorder that is characterized by egocentricism, impulsivity, irresponsibility, shallow emotions, and lack of empathy, guilt, or remorse. Pathological lying, manipulativeness, and persistent violation of social norms and expectations are also typical of psychopathic behavior (Hare, 1996). This selfishness, manipulativeness, and continual social deviance are often displayed by aggressive behavior that is psychopathological, due to its connection with psychopathy.
As a manifestation of the disorder itself, the factors that cause psychopathy result in its aggressive behavior. Hare (1996) theorized that psychopathy may be related to cerebral dysfunction ?reflecting structural or functional abnormalities in the brain mechanisms and circuitry?responsible for the coordination of cognitive and affective processes (Intrator et al., 1995).? Damage to the medial temporal cortex, amygdala, and particularly of the orbito/ventromedial frontal cortex, has been correlated with ?dissociation of the logical/cognitive and affective components of thought(Damasio, Grabowinski, Frank, Galaburda & Damasio, 1994), or even what Damasio, Tranel, and Damasio (1987) refer to as acquired sociopathy? (Hare, 1996, pp 46).
Likewise, Oltmanns, Neale, & Davison (1991) indicate that there is evidence of a genetically inheritable predisposition for psychopathy, possibly involving the autonomic nervous system, which is connected to emotion. This idea is based on studying psychopaths’ particular adeptness at ignoring stimuli.
Research has also supported the theory that psychopaths fail to appreciate the emotional significance of an event or experience. This, along with unwillingness or inability to ?process or use the deep semantic meanings of language,? may be causal in psychopaths’ apparently subtle form of thought disorder. This apparent lack of central organization of behavior and logic may be a factor in the aggressiveness of their behavior (Oltmanns, Neale, & Davison, 1991).
Furthermore, the family environment of psychopaths may contribute to their abnormal behavior. A lack of parental affection and severe parental rejection may cause influential adjustment problems. Inconsistency in discipline, and a failure of parents to teach children their responsibilities may additionally play a causal role in the development of psychopathy (Emery &Oltmanns, 1998).
Finally, avoidance learning may contribute to psychopathy. People suffering from this disorder seemingly feel no need to avoid the negative consequences of social misbehavior. Therefore, they may have few inhibitions about committing antisocial acts since they have been shown to lack symptoms of anxiety. This lack of learning from negative experiences may contribute to psychopathy.
All of these factors may contribute to psychopathy somewhat. The resulting lack of anxiety and emotional affect may lead psychopaths to seek excitement in ways that are more aggressive. Since they are apparently unaffected by the consequences of these impulsive and often criminal behaviors, their appears to be little to deter them from this destructive thrill-seeking.
Aggression between groups, in contrast, is the result of different variables than for an individual psychopath. Ethnocentrism is the view of one’s own group as superior and looks down upon other groups as outsiders. It is an ineradicable psychological process, caused by each individual’s effort to achieve and maintain a positive self-image. Another factor, stereotypes, are shared conceptions of the character of a group. Due to ethnocentric influence, the in-group profiles tend to be more favorable than those of the out-group, often becoming the explanation for intergroup aggression. Finally, an unfair or unjust disadvantage or frustration is perceived between two groups, when they are similar enough to compare their outcomes (Brown, 1986).
As a contributing factor to intergroup aggression, the application of stereotypes is important. The formation of stereotypes is apparently a result of a human need to categorize, and tends to reflect some characteristic that is somewhat prevalent among the observed group, and is therefore seen as a base rate within the group. Without any information about individual group members, stereotypes tend to influence behavior toward the group and its individual members. When additional information is known about members of the group however, stereotypes may still affect decisions concerning the treatment of members of the group. When stereotyping does affect behavior, ideological and social beliefs tend to determine whether its influence is implicit or explicit (Brown, 1986). Implicitness, is a result of ?spontaneous, effortless activation of knowledge contents that is driven by cues in the stimulus environment rather than by an active memory search.? (Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 1997, 263). Explicitness, in contrast, is due to ?intentional control and conscious thought processes? (Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 1997, 263). Ideological beliefs about equality and fairness, as well as beliefs about the relative importance in our society of the stereotyped category, tend to determine the implicit and explicit applications of stereotypes to behavior toward group members (Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 1997).
Implicit stereotypic influence may incite aggression in different ways. One way it may have an effect is by creating expectations about victims and perpetrators of aggression. Perceptions of bias may be determined by our images of prototypic perpetrators and victims, based on stereotypical views. This sensitivity to bias, in turn may affect the aggressiveness of one’s reactions to prejudice (Inman, ; Baron, 1995). Another influence of implicit stereotypes may be related to social roles. Stereotypes based on social roles may be incorrectly attributed to the individuals fulfilling the role. When a group tends to fill a particular role, it is therefore subject to the implicit influence of the stereotypes that are associated with that role (Geis, Brown, Jennings, ; Corrado-Taylor, 1996).
Since the aggression of individuals and groups often results in harm to the individuals it is directed towards, mitigating this behavior can be an important goal. Aggression between groups may be reduced by the combination of noncompetitive contact and a superordinate goal, valued by both groups, that is attainable only by cooperation, especially when the two groups are of equal status. When their status is unequal however, differences between the groups will remain validated as stereotypes as long as the group’s status remains unequal. Therefore, media portrayal of role-reversals in a supportive social context may create a social consensus effect that can invalidate stereotypes based on the typical status of a particular group (Brown, 1986).
Individual aggression, when linked to group identity, would be mitigated by reductions in group aggression. When aggressive behavior is not tied to group membership however, such as with psychopaths, it may require a different approach. Unfortunately, no methodologically sound treatments have been shown effective with psychopaths (Oltmanns, Neale, & Davison, 1991). Cognitive behavioral therapy aiming to convince psychopaths of their responsibility for their behavior and to suggest more prosocial ways of seeking satisfaction with their strengths and abilities may have some effect (Hare, 1996). Nevertheless, only time has been correlated with the lessening of aggressive behaviors of psychopaths.
Brown, R. (1986). Social psychology: The second edition (pp. 533-626). New York: The Free Press.
Emery, R.E., & Oltmanns, T.F. (1998). Abnormal Psychology (2nd ed.). Upper Sadle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Geis, F.L., Brown, V., Jennings, J., & Corrado-Taylor, D. (1996). Sex vs. status in sex-associated stereotypes. Sex Roles, 11, 771-785.
Hare, R.D. (1996). Psychopathy: A clinical construct whose time has come. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23, 25-54.
Inman, M.L., & Baron, R.S. (1995). Influence of prototypes on perceptions of prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 727-739.
Oltmanns, T.F., Neale, J.M., & Davison, G.C. (1991). Case studies in abnormal psychology (pp.136-147). New York: Wiley.
Wittenbrink, B., Judd, C.M., & Park, B. (1997). Evidence for racial prejudice at the implicit level and its relationship with questionnaire measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 262-274.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary (home and office ed.). (1995). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.