The Echoes of the Mind (131) Individual Violence

Individual Violence

At the personal level, aggressive conflict is born of frustration, coincident with irritability, abetted by provocation, and fostered in cultures which tolerate aggression as acceptable behavior.

Aggression as a characteristic way of solving social problems usually emerges early in life. ~ American psychologist Rowell Huesmann et al

Short-tempered individuals – “hot heads” – are aggression-prone. While humans behave according to context and exhibit varying degrees of consistency in different personality traits over time, aggressiveness tends to be persistent.

Children learn that aggression is acceptable to various degrees from parents, teachers, siblings, peers, and social media. Once inculcated, an individual’s propensity to violence tends to be set for life.

Aggression sex differences are a function of perceived consequences of aggression that are learned as aspects of gender roles and other social roles. ~ American social psychologists Alice Eagly & Valerie Steffen

Whereas males are more prone than females to engage in overt physical aggression, women tend to employ passive-aggressive and more oblique techniques. This is consistent with upbringing and gender roles.

People behave aggressively to the extent that their beliefs legitimize aggression by its consequences. Males and females hold contrasting social representations of aggression.

Women perceive aggression expressively: for showing anger and reducing stress. In contrast, men view aggression instrumentally: as a means for social or material reward.

Genders differ in what mediates aggression. Women are more subject to guilt and anxiety when they aggress. They are also more concerned about the physical dangers of retaliation. That females are generally more empathic than males, both by disposition and social role, also tends to inhibit aggression.

Men and women react somewhat differently to aggressive cues and provocation. What is anger-provoking for men may raise anxiety in women.

Men both dish out and receive more violence than women. Aggression toward women is tempered by both sexual dimorphism and their subordinate social status. The death toll from bloodshed is higher for males than females. But women suffer much more physical spousal abuse and sexual assaults. All told, the toll of savagery on females throughout the world, mostly instigated by men, far surpasses that suffered by males.

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Most people desire to determine their fate. Not being able to influence outcomes is frustrating and can be motivationally debilitating when perpetually powerless. A pallor of helplessness and depression can settle in.

Disposition and varied life experiences create a spectrum of beliefs regarding control. At one extreme are internals, who feel that they can influence events in a wide variety of contexts. At the other end are externals, who feel at the mercy of forces beyond their control.

Internals typically view aggression as instrumental: a social tool for achieving desired ends. In contrast, externals perceive little instrumental value in aggression, and resort to violence only when provoked beyond endurance.

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Aggression only moves in one direction – it creates more aggression. ~ American management consultant Margaret Wheatley

Incidents that begin with verbal conflict escalate into physically violent ones if one of the individuals involved is so inclined. Preemptive aggression can be expected by those who feel that their adversary has malicious intent. An attack may be a presumed means to deter future aggression.

Hostile attributional bias is the inclination to perceive hostile intent by others, irrespective of indication. It is a common bias among chronic aggressors and correlates with overreactive aggression: the tendency toward extreme retaliation in response to even mild provocation.

There are 2 groups of pathological aggressors: under-controlled and over-controlled. Both are relatively small in number to population size, but socially significant.

Under-controlled aggressors are those people prone to violence. They account for a very high proportion of violent acts. Part of this is positive self-feedback: aggression may be personally satisfying. Hostile attributional bias is common in under-controlled aggressors.

American social psychologist Hans Toch studied violent men and women for decades and developed the following major categories of under-controlled aggressors.

Over-controlled aggressors are people with strong internal controls against aggression, but once unleashed, their violence is extreme. Mass murderers typify this persona. They are often mild-mannered people who, once sufficiently provoked, have a tantrum that is positively homicidal. Once the outburst is over, they revert to their typical passive state.

Wife-beaters may fall into either category. The primary difference is that under-controlled aggressors approve of their acts, while over-controlled individuals do not, but excuse themselves by feeling they had no other resort.

Alcohol lubricates aggression by loosening inhibitions. But provocation must still present itself for fists to fly.

Barroom brawls are legion. Many violent crimes are fueled by booze, imbibed by the perpetrator or the victim or both. Much domestic violence ensues after knocking back more than a few drinks.

Aggression is deeply rooted in the personality structure of violent people, especially sadists and bullies. Psychological treatment may help those that recognize they have a problem.

In contrast, incarceration – the universal recourse – is detrimental to the individual, the institution, and ultimately society; better to eliminate such pathogenic organisms.

Bystanders may play a role in aggression, even when not involved. Their presence may enhance aggressiveness when approval is anticipated or dampen it if censure is expected.

The environment affects aggressive tendencies. Pastoral settings are antithetical, whereas urban streets, with their noise, pollution, and crowding, are encouraging.

Moderately high temperatures help make tempers run hotter. When temperatures become sweltering, potential aggressors are more interested in escape than in prolonging discomfort.

Aggression may be enhanced or inhibited by situational aspects which affect an individual’s degree of self-consciousness. Decreased self-awareness – being caught up in the moment – enhances aggression.

When concerned with response by potential victims or authorities, people are said to be publicly self-aware. Hence, the mere presence of police tends to reduce violent encounters among the citizenry.

Aggression is strongly influenced by the attitudes of the individuals involved, both aggressors and victims.

Attitude refers to the categorical mental representation to an object, event, or situation. Attitude has 3 components: beliefs, evaluation, and behaviors. Attitudinal beliefs are axiomatic opinions held about the attitude objects. Evaluation is the attraction-repulsion for certain objects. Behavioral attitude is the predisposition to act in certain ways toward specific objects or in certain situations. Attitudes develop through personal experiences and cultural influence.