Aggression is “any form of behaviour directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who motivated to avoid such treatment.” (Baron and Richardson, 1994). It has to be a behaviour, either physical or verbal. It involves psychological or physical harm or injury. It is directed toward a living organism, and it involves intent. There are four main theories of aggression. The instinct theory, the frustration-aggression hypothesis, the revised frustration-aggression hypothesis, and the social learning theory.
The Instinct theory of aggression is based on works by Sigmund Freud and Konard Lorenz. According to Freud, aggression is an inborn drive similar to sex or hunger. It is a natural, innate characteristic which has developed through evolution and is a major part of our existence. Aggression can be expressed by directly attacking another living being or being released through catharsis. Catharsis is when aggression is released through socially acceptable means. According to Lorenz, competitive games and sports are one example of a safe and socially acceptable outlet for pent up aggression.
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Sigmund Freud claimed that our “death instincts”, which are destructive are subconsciously in conflict with our “life instincts”, which are positive and creative, and this confliction is the origin of all desires to be aggressive. According to this theory, aggression was the main representative of the death instinct. This theory however, has a crucial flaw in that having defined the general aim of the death instinct, Freud failed to determine it’s source.
The frustration-aggression theory was proposed by Dollard et al (1939). He argued that aggression is a innate response which only occurs in frustrating situations. Frustration of not meeting goals and satisfying personal needs can make a person angry and aggressive. This is the basis of the frustration-aggression hypothesis.
Aggressive behaviour is a logical and expected consequence of frustration. It can lead to goal aggression (purpose of hurting someone) or instrumental aggression where an opponent might get injured accidentally while frustrated player is legally going for the ball). The more built up frustration the more likely the athlete will use goal aggression to attempt to injure the opponent. A person can also use displaced aggression to release their built up frustration. Displace aggression is when aggression is carried out on other objects.
The frustration-aggression theory differs from the instinct theory in that aggression may be the result of instigators other than biological instincts. A more recent view of the frustration-aggression theory suggests that the magnitude of the expressed aggression is dependent on the amplitude of the frustration, the individual’s threshold for frustration, the amount of frustrating incidents, and the magnitude of the anticipated retaliation to the athletes expressed aggression.
According to Berkowitz and Alioto (1973), a frustrating event creates a readiness for aggression. Certain stimuli associated with aggression must be present for aggression to take place. These stimuli are cues which the frustrated person associates with aggression. A study done by Brekowitz and Page (1967) showed that frustrated subjects placed in a room with aggressive cues (weapons), showed greater aggression than subjects placed in a room with non aggressive cues (badminton rackets). Another study done by Frank and Gilovich (1988) showed that teams which wear black uniforms in the National Football League (NFL) and the National Hockey League (NHL), rank near the top of their respective leagues in penalties studied.
The social learning theorists believe that “aggression is a function of learning and that biological drive and frustration are inadequate explanations of the phenomenon.” (Cox, 1994). A study done by McCord (1962) found direct correlations between the degree of aggressiveness in adolescents and aggressiveness in the family environment. The parents were also characterised as being hostile with each other. McCord also found that non-aggressive boys were brought up in a warm, less aggressive environment. (Anshel 1994).
Bandura believes catharsis, while it is an important component of the instinct theory and the frustration-aggression theory, it plays no part in the social learning theory. According to Bandura, aggression has a circular effect. Acts of aggression only lay the foundation for more aggression and that this pattern will continue until the circle is broken by a positive or negative reinforcement. Bandura (1973) also thought that aggressive behaviours are acquired and maintained by two modes. The modelling process and the vicarious process. The modelling process is based on the tendency to imitate the actions of the individual being observed. If an individual was performing aggressive acts it will likely lead to an observer demonstrating similar behaviours. Vicarious processes occur when observers are exposed to models who are rewarded for aggressive acts opposed to models who are punished for them. Observers are more likely to become aggressive after observing models which are rewarded for aggressive behaviour rather than punished.
The revised frustration-aggression theory combines elements of the frustration-aggression theory with the social learning theory. According to this widely held view, “although frustration does not always lead to aggression, it increases the likelihood of aggression by increasing arousal and anger”. (Berkowitz, 1993) Increased arousal and anger will only result in aggression when socially learned cues signal it is appropriate. If the socially learned cues signal aggression is not appropriate, it will not result.
Berkowitz’s model shows the aggression process. First the individual becomes frustrated. Then increased arousal results from the frustration, usually in the form of anger or pain. Increased arousal and anger will only lead to aggression if the individual has learnt that it is appropriate in such a situation. Aggression will not automatically result.
Soccer is a sport which can be very aggressive. Some coaches feel that aggressiveness can enhance athletic performance and often tell their players to ‘go in hard’ and ‘don’t back out’. This sort of aggression can enhance athletic performance, if the player is going for the ball, if it’s legal and there is no intention to deliberately hurt or injure the opposition. If a player starts to show signs of aggression they should be discouraged by the coach or given a yellow card by the referee as a warning. If they continue to be aggressive they should be given a red card and be sent off or the coach should take that player off. Coaches should discourage aggression and not promote it. Athletes should also be encouraged for controlling their tempers in highly aggressive situations. Coaches who encourage or allow their players to engage in aggressive acts should be fined or suspended from their coaching duties. Another problem is that the most influential people to young athletes actually promote rather than discourage violence. Professionals should define appropriate behaviour and make clear that any form of aggression inappropriate in society is also inappropriate in sport. If aggression is allowed at the professional level, it will continue to be promoted in the lower skill levels. If a athlete has a problem with aggression, stress management training can help deal with frustrating situations. Through training, the athlete could reduce their aggressive responses. Also, external stimuli or cues capable of evoking hostile aggression on the field should be removed to discourage aggression.
There are four main theories of aggression. The instinct theory is based on works by Freud and Lorenz. They believe aggression is an innate characteristic which builds up and has to be released either by catharsis or by unacceptable means. Frustration-aggression theorists believe aggression is a direct result of frustration and that frustration always leads to aggression.
According to the social learning theory, people learn to be aggressive by observing others using aggressive behaviour. They are more likely to imitate the behaviour if the model is rewarded in someway. The revised frustration-aggression theory states that frustration creates “ready to aggress”, but will not necessarily do so. Aggressive cues need to be present to signal aggression is appropriate in the situation. Aggression should be discouraged in sport by influential people such as sport stars and other role models. Young athletes should be told that aggression is not necessary by their coaches and be punished for using it.
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