A comprehensive examination of the nature of human aggression


Its Causes, Consequences, and Control

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Leonard Berkowitz

In this wide-ranging discussion of the social psychology of human aggression, Leonard Berkowitz examines the findings of behavioral research about conditions and circumstances that promote anger and aggression. Emphasizing that aggression takes numerous forms and has many causes, Berkowitz distinguishes between instrumental aggression (assaults carried out to benefit the attacker in some way) and emotional (impulsive or expressive) aggression. He points out that they have different origins and aims and are best controlled in different ways. Although he gives much attention to the conditions promoting deliberate instrumental aggression, Berkowitz also shows that many assaults are highly emotional acts. He therefore considers conceptions of emotion and the nature of anger and offers a new theory of the factors affecting impulsive aggression. The discussion throughout is based on both laboratory experiments and "real world" field studies.

Berkowitz summarizes what behavioral scientists have learned about the nature of highly aggressive personalities and the family and childhood backgrounds of those who are disposed to violent, antisocial behavior. He also reports important studies of the effects of violence depicted in the mass media. In discussing conditions that lead to child abuse, spouse battering, and murder, Berkowitz identifies such risk factors as childhood experiences, frustration, poverty, and personal and social stresses, as well as external events and situations that bring hostile ideas to mind. He also examines biological influences, such as hereditary factors, hormones, and alcohol, that promote aggressive tendencies.

Reviewing studies of the use of punishment and legal controls (e.g., the death penalty, gun control laws), the author discusses how this socially destructive behavior might be reduced. He presents research on the effectiveness of various psychological procedures, including the supposedly cathartic methods, instrumental training, and cognitive and anger control techniques.

This general introduction to the research and theorizing about human aggression seeks to promote understanding of the fundamental causes of destructive conduct, the conditions that can increase the chances of aggressive behavior, and the most effective steps that could be taken to reduce the likelihood of violence in society.



"John Hinckley's case is a fairly good example of how subtly and how pervasively the mass media can influence the level of aggression in contemporary society. Not only was his attempt to kill President Reagan apparently incited by a movie but also this action, which was widely reported in the press and on radio and television, evidently prompted others to imitate his aggression. According to spokesman for the Secret Service (the government agency charged with protecting the President), there was a substantial increase in threats against the President's life in the days after the shooting. This was not unusual, the Secret Service official said. Attempts to kill a President have often been followed by a jump in the number of spoken and written threats against him.

"Indeed, just such an increase also occurred six years earlier, in September 1975, after Lynette Fromme tried to shoot President Gerald Ford. Statistics released by the Secret Service indicated that the agency received 320 threats against President Ford in the first three weeks after the attempted assassination, as compared to the customary 100 threats for this time span. Each such threat has to be taken seriously, of course, since some persons might try to translate their words into action—and, indeed, about two weeks after Lynette Fromme's assassination attempt, Sara Jane Moore also shot at President Ford. Assassination attempts are apparently a hazard that all prominent politicians must face. Hubert Humphrey, who was vice-resident under Lyndon Johnson and himself three times a presidential candidate, commented after the second attempt on President Ford's life, 'There is a certain number of people who, for some reason or another, the minute they see an attempt or hear of an attempt…. They like to get in on the act.' "

From "Violence on the Screen and Printed Page: Immediate Effects"



1. The Problem of Aggression
What is Aggression? • Some Words about Anger, Hostility, and Aggressiveness • Summary • Notes

Part I: Emotional Aggression
What is Emotional Aggression? • Notes

2. Effects of Frustrations
The 1939 Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis • Revision the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis • Summary • Notes

3. We're Nasty When We Feel Bad
Negative Affect as the Root of Emotional Aggression • Negative Affect, Aggressive Inclinations, and Anger • Pulling Out Implusive Aggression: The Role of Aggressive Cues • Summary • Notes

4. Does Thinking Make It So?
Cognitions and Emotion • Theories of Emotion • Cognitions Don't Always "Make It So": Evidence of Noncognitive Influences upon Emotion • Thoughts Do Matter • Summary • Notes

Part II: Aggressive Personalities

5. The Identification of the Violence Prone
Are Some People consistently Disposed to be Aggressive? • How Aggressive Personalities Operate • Summary • Notes

6. The Development of Violence Proneness
Familial and Peer Influences on the Development of Aggressiveness • Childhood Experiences • Direct Influences on the Development of Aggressiveness • Indirect Influences • Summary • Notes

Part III: Violence in Society

7. Violence in the Media
Entertaining, Informative, Instructive...and Dangerous? • Violence on the Screen and Printed Page: Immediate Effects • The Prolonged Influence of Repeated Exposure to Media Violence • Summary • Notes

8. Domestic Violence
Explaining Domestic Violence • Summary • Notes

9. Murder
An Introduction to Murder • Conditions That Influence Murders • The Violent Interaction • Summary • Notes

Part IV: Controlling Aggression

10. Punishment and Societal Controls
Using Punishment to Deter Violence • Would Gun Control Lessen Violent Crimes? • Summary • Notes

11. Psychological Procedures for Controlling Aggression
Catharsis: Reducing One's Violent Urges by Aggressing • Developing New Ways of Behaving • Summary • Notes

Part V: Some Special Questions

12. Biology and Aggression
A "Lust for Hatred and Destruction"? • Are People Instinctively Driven to Violence? • Critique of the Traditional Instinct Conception • Heredity Hormones • Alcohol and Aggression • Summary • Notes

13. Aggression in the Laboratory
The Typical Laboratory Procedure • Some Considerations in Support of Laboratory Experiments • Summary • Notes

14. In Conclusion: Some Lessons to be Drawn
Different Kinds of Aggression: Instrumental and Emotional • Is Violence Inevitable? • The Determinants as Risk Factors • Controlling Violence



About the Author(s)

Leonard Berkowitz is Vilas Research Professor in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The internationally known recipient of a distinguised scientist award by the American Psychological Association, he is the author of several books and more than 170 articles.

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