Here are a series of suggested answers for the Aggression topic questions in AQA A Level Psychology Paper 3 (Section D) in June 2018.
Question 35: (6 marks)
One strength of desensitisation as an explanation for aggression is that there is supporting evidence. For example, participants were shown violent and non-violent films while having their levels of physiological arousal measured using skin conductivity. They found that those who were habitual viewers of media violence showed lower levels of arousal when watching the violent film clips and were more likely to blast a confederate with white noise in an unprovoked attack. This suggests that repeated exposure to media violence can lead to desensitisation and aggression.
However, this explanation fails to consider the role of individual differences. Some people may be predisposed (perhaps by biological factors) to enjoy watching violent media and to become desensitised. In addition, some people might find that watching violent films is cathartic and actually reduces their aggressive impulses without them having to resort to violence. The fact that not everyone reacts to violent media in the same way is a limitation of the explanation.
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Question 36: (16 marks)
Deindividuation is one explanation for aggression. It is based on the work of Le Bon (1895) who claimed that in a crowd, the combination of anonymity, suggestibility and contagion means that the ‘collective mind’ takes over, leading to loss of control and behaving in ways that go against social norms. Deindividuation theory was first introduced by Zimbardo, who suggested it occurs when people who are part of a relatively anonymous group lose their personal identity and their inhibitions about violence. Diener claims that deindividuation occurs as a result of decreased self-awareness that leads to poor self-monitoring of behaviour, reduced rational thinking, reduced need for social approval and reduced inhibitions against behaving impulsively. John talks about being with his mates and all punching at once and that everyone else was fighting so he just joined in. This suggests that he was part of a relatively anonymous group, had lost control and was behaving impulsively.
Support for this explanation comes from Zimbardo’s Stanford prison Experiment. Zimbardo explained his findings in terms of deindividuation as a result of the social situation. The “guards” were in uniform, wore mirror sunglasses and their personal identity was partly hidden. Further support comes from another Zimbardo study where female participants were instructed to give electric shocks to a learner (a confederate) when she completed a task incorrectly. The deindividuated group (wore white laboratory coats and hood) gave twice as many shocks than the control group (wore normal clothes and name tags). Both studies suggest that anonymity contributed to aggressive behaviour. However, there is also evidence showing that deindividuation can produce increases in pro-social behaviour, such as the collective goodwill shown at religious rallies. This suggests that deindividuation can lead to either prosocial or antisocial behaviour depending on situational factors.
The frustration-aggression hypothesis is another explanation for aggression, which suggests that if we are trying to achieve a goal and it is blocked in some way, we become frustrated and this can lead to aggression as catharsis. Often we cannot express this directly onto the source of the frustration as it might be abstract, too powerful or unavailable at the time, so it is displaced onto something or someone else. This could apply to John as he says ‘our team lost again – it’s not fair’. This suggests that he was frustrated and may have displaced the resulting aggression onto the opposing fans as he would not be able to target the players of the opposing team.
There is evidence to support this explanation as a meta-analysis of 49 studies of displaced aggression found that participants who were provoked but unable to directly retaliate against the source of their frustration were significantly more likely to show aggression towards an innocent target. However, there is also evidence that displacing aggression may not be cathartic. For example, Bushman found that participants who displaced their anger by hitting a punch-bag actually became more angry and aggressive, disputing the validity of one of the key components of the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Because it has become clear that aggression does not always lead to frustration and frustration does not always lead to aggression, Berkowitz has reformulated the hypothesis to say that aggressive behaviour can be triggered by any kind of negative feelings and also that the outcome of frustration can be a range of responses, including aggression, anxiety, helplessness or determination.
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