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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Personal Causes of Aggression


Are some person “printed” for aggression by their personal characteristics? Informal observation suggests that this is so. While some individuals rarely lose their tempers or engage in aggressive actions, others seem to be forever blowing their tops, often with serious consequences. In this section, we will consider several personal traits or characteristics that seem to play an important role in aggression.

The Type A Behavior Pattern: Why the A in Type A Could Well Stand for Aggression

Do you know anyone you could describe as (1) extremely competitive, (2) always in a hurry, and (3) especially irritable and aggressive? If so, this person shows the characteristics of what psychologists term the Type A behavior pattern (Glass, 1977; Strube, 1989). At the opposite end of the continuum are persons who do not show these characteristics – individuals who are not highly competitive, who are not always fighting the clock, and who do not readily lose their temper; such persons are described as showing the Type B behavior pattern.

Given the characteristics mentioned above, it seems only reasonable to expect that Type A’s would tend to be more aggressive than Type B’s in many situations. In fact, the results of several experiments indicate that this is actually the case. For example, consider a study by Berman, Gladue, and Taylor (1993). These researchers exposed young men known to be Type A or Type B to increasing provocation from a stranger: this person set increasingly strong shocks for them in a competitive reaction time task where the slower-respond person (the loser on each trial) received the shock set for him by his opponent. (This is the method for studying aggression devised by Stuart Taylor that I mentioned in the title Cornerstones in next post.)

Another feature of the study involved measurement of participants’ testosterone level; testosterone is an important male sex hormone. Testosterone was measure from participants’ saliva before the start of the reaction time task. Results indicated that during the competitive task, Type A’s who also had a high level of testosterone set the highest level of shocks for their opponent. In addition, Type A’s with high testosterone levels were much more likely than other participants to use the highest shock setting available. These findings indicate that two different personal characteristics – the Type A behavior pattern and testosterone level – both play a role in determining aggressive behavior.

Additional findings indicate that Type A’s are truly hostile people: they don’t merely aggress against others because this is a useful means for reaching other goals, such as winning athletic contests or furthering their own careers. Rather, they are more likely than Type B’s to engage in what is know as hostile aggression – aggression in which the prime objective is inflicting some kind of harm on the victim. In view of Type B’s to engage in such actions as child abuse or spouse, topics we’ll soon examine in more detail. In contrast, Type A’s are not more likely to engage in instrumental aggression – aggression a person performs not primarily to harm the victim but to attain other goals, such as control of valued resources or praise from others for behaving in a “tough” manner.

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