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Posts archived in Aggression

After a query from a student in our forum, I sent the following question to AQA:

In the AQA A Psychology specification there are several references to ‘neural mechanisms’. In the mark schemes these are explicitly linked to brain mechanisms (e.g. see question 5, June 2011 PSYA3). However the term ‘neural’ is defined as ‘of, relating to, or affecting a nerve or the nervous system’ (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neural). Should you broaden your use of this term and not limit it just to the brain? The specification does not make this clear.

I received the following answer:

We agree with the definition of ‘neural’ and relevant material on e.g. the peripheral nervous system, would always be credited. For most topics relevant material on neural mechanisms would normally involve the brain ,which is why the brain is emphasized in mark schemes, but in future we will make it clear that ‘neural’ incorporates the whole nervous system and not just the brain.

We’ve known for ages that trans fats are seriously not good news health-wise. Now it is being suggested that there could be a direct link with aggressive behaviour. The link has not been established as causal, but the research methodology seems quite sound and there could be important applications – though the researchers’ picking out of  “schools and prisons” as examples of real life might be an illustration of an unconscious effect!

The team (UC San Diego) analysed the relationship between trans fatty acids and aggression or irritability using baseline dietary information and behavioural assessments of 945 adults, men and women. They measured factors such as a life history of aggression, conflict tactics and self-rated impatience and irritability, plus an “overt aggression” scale about recent aggressive behaviours. Results were adjusted for sex, age, education, and use of alcohol and smoking.

They found that greater trans fatty acids in the diet were significantly associated with greater aggression, and were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability than the other known aggression predictors.

It seems that it is wise to avoid eating trans fats for more than physical health reasons, as well as not including them in foods provided for communities such as schools and prisons.
Golomb, B.A., Evans, M.A., White, H.L. and Dimsdale, J.E. (2012) Trans Fat Consumption and Aggression. PLoS ONE, 7 (3)

Dreams, drugs, intelligence, memory, infant brains, psychoanalysis, human evolution and many more – Loads of online broadcasts from Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ Radio 4 series to be found here – all free – it makes one proud to be a licence payer….

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.


Some sleep disorders are well known – sleep-walking for example. But in very unusual cases people who sleepwalk behave in a highly unusual way, this is a very rare form of the disorder somnambulism when they commite violent acts.

In 2008 in the UK a middle aged man with a long history of sleep disorders actually killed his wife whilst they were both asleep. This tragedy happened when they were on holiday and the man in question had decided not to take his medication. He had a nighmare, thought he was struggling with assailants, but when he woke he found his wife dead. There is no reason to suspect that the couple were not happy together, and sleep disorder experts and the police accept that this unhappy case is one of temporary  “insane automatism”.

If you  smash your fist into someone’s body are you being aggressive and anti-social, or are you just doing what your genes programme you to do? The idea of genes affecting behaviour isn’t new and isn’t disputed, but the use of certain genes as a mitigating factor in criminal behaviour is a contentious issue. Genes have been used as part of the defence in cases of murder, and moral and ethical arguments around this use have focused on the low validity of the research evidence plus the generally accepted concepts of free will and personal responsibility. The argument has been taken a stage further now as a convicted murderer in Italy has had his sentence reduced partly because of his history of psychiatric illness and also partly because his genome includes five genes known to be associated with violent behaviour. One of these genes is a variant of MAOA, which codes for an enzyme which breaks down amines in the brain, and this low-activity variant correlates in research findings with violence and aggression, giving it its nickname the “warrior” gene. However, as we all know, correlations are not necessarily causal; and then there is the responsibility debate. So, what would you decide if you were on the jury, the defendant was clearly guilty of murder, but also had a gene profile predisposing him or her to violence and aggression?

Earlier this year Professor Albert Bandura visited London and presented a fascinating talk on the application of social learning theory (SLT – now called social cognitive theory). An edited version of this talk is in the June edition of The Psychologist (which is free online here). The research he discussed provides great support for SLT as well as demonstrating its application to the real world.The talk focused on how SLT is being used to tackle urgent global problems. For example, in Tanzania the current population is 36 million. This is predicted to soar to Read the rest of this entry »

As you are probably aware, there’s always been a debate concerning whether or not psychology is a science – indeed this has been a topic on second year essay papers for years –  but a while back the QCA messed up everyone’s chances of getting any discussion points on that question, by making a declaration that yes, psychology was a proper science after all …..

I got quite excited about this for a while – at last I could look at  ‘hard’ scientists in the chemistry department with my head held high… but being a real scientist has got a bit boring lately. It turned out all it meant was a new A03 skill on the exam papers :- criticising research methods, which was something we’d all been doing for years anyway.

However, I cheered up when a few days back I got an email about this site, which has everything I need to kit myself out with a proper psychological scientific research lab: sinister one-way mirrors, lie-detectors, goggles that make your perception go all wonky, weird little roller things that measure your sensitivity to pain and…. best of all…. a bobo doll:


No fake electric shock generators yet…. but I’m sure they’ll get some back in stock soon…

How are juvenile delinquents portrayed in modern culture? (indeed do we even use the term ‘delinquent’ anymore?) The contemporary media  paints a picture of surly youths hanging around on street corners drinking ‘alcopops’ and wearing hoodies. However, things were obviously quite different back in 1925, when eminient psychologist Sir Cyril Burt used the following illustration in his book ‘The Young Delinquent”:


If you click on the ‘read rest of entry‘ link at the end of this post to look at the rest of the pictures, you’ll discover that back then three piece suits and working mens caps were very ‘street’ for boys, whereas young ladies were smoking on the dancefloor and hanging about on enormous stuffed horses…..

….. terrifying……

All pictures from Burt, C.L. (1925). The young delinquent. London: University of London Press,  with many thanks to Saxon (aged 43 11/12) of the excellent ‘Too Many Pipes’ for the original text.

(Also, talking of delinquents, have you looked at ‘Contemporary Mottled Sheep’ ?)

Read the rest of this entry »


Sigmund Freud argued that aggression could be represented as an ‘energy’ that somehow builds up inside of us, causing us to experience tension and psychological discomfort and maybe ultimately mental disorders, unless we could somehow  ‘release’ it, by indulging in aggressive behaviour…. So if you’ve ever found yourself ‘boiling over with rage’ and have ‘taken it out on’ something or someone to make yourself feel better, then you’ve been indulging in a bit of Freudian thinking.. Freud called this process of release ‘catharsis’.

If you are studying aggression, this idea forms an interesting discussion point: Most of the social approaches imply to us that taking part in, or viewing,  aggressive behaviours somehow increases the likelihood of our committing further aggressive acts, whereas for Freud the release of pent-up energy through a violent act actually decreases our inclination to be violent – So maybe you should go and beat up an inflatable children’s toy next time someone winds you up…

There’s an easy way to test this of course: Head over here and have a quick arm wrestle with the man himself. If you come away from the experience feeling noticeably more calm and relaxed, then Sigmund has the argument nailed. If you find yourself a boiling mass of frustrated rage with a broken keyboard, well… then maybe not, but please note that, either way, we here at the Cat & Dogs Book Publishing Company Inc. can accept absolutely no responsibility for damaged computer equipment and patrons take on the mighty Sigmund entirely at their own risk.