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Study Notes

Aggression: Situational Explanations

A Level

Situational explanations disagree that aggression is caused by the individuals, and propose that aggression in prisons is the result of environmental factors. Social Psychologists maintain that when individuals are in crowded conditions this can cause a rise in aggressive behaviour. In addition, by their very nature as a form of punishment, prisons are stressful environments. One situational explanation has been put forward by Sykes (1958) which proposes that aggression results from a number of environmental deprivations.

  • Deprivation of liberty: Prisoners are deprived of their freedom; this is the main form of punishment when an individual is sent to prison. They have to remain in the prison environment with no freedom at all. Prisoners often have to obtain permission to eat/sleep, shower, etc. (Blomberg & Lucken, 2000).
  • Deprivation of autonomy: Prisoners have no power and very few choices; this leads to a feeling of almost helplessness among inmates. This can lead to frustration and aggression.
  • Deprivation of goods: In prison access to things that we take for granted such as smartphones are restricted or denied entirely. This brings about a frustrated sense of failure to most prisoners, leading to aggression (Sykes, 1958).
  • Deprivation of heterosexual relationships: Men may feel emasculated from the loss of heterosexual relationships; they feel less than a man. In addition, the greater opportunity for homosexual behaviour in prison may lead to anxieties for prisoners.
  • Deprivation of security: Prisoners may live in fear of aggression from other inmates, which leads to a heightened sense of physical threat. This feeling of perceived continual threat can result in an aggressive response as a form of defence.

Exam Hint: Students may be tempted to use the social psychological explanation of deindividuation as a situational explanation; however, these answers tend to lose focus on institutional aggression and became general essays on the social psychology of aggression. There is a common problem of linking deindividuation explanations explicitly to institutional aggression.

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