You are on page 1of 14


Social learning theory; Deindividuation; Cue Arousal; Relative Deprivation.

Explanations of institutional aggression


Albert Bandura
Learning Objectives- You will be able to:
Apply the social learning theory to learning aggressive behaviour with reference
to research
Evaluate the theory and methodology
Discuss issues and debates with reference to the social learning theory.

Social learning theory (SLT) evolved from operant conditioning. It considers the effect
of observing other people being rewarded how this shapes our own behaviour.
According to this theory, aggressive behaviour can be learned by observing and imitating
the aggressive behaviour of other people.
SLT was proposed by Albert Bandura, who used the term modelling to explain how
humans can very quickly learn specific acts of aggression and incorporate them into their
behaviour. Modelling is sometimes referred to as vicarious learning. The term vicarious
means indirect; we can learn aggression without being directly reinforced for aggressive
behaviour of our own. This works when we observe aggression in other somehow being
rewarded. An example would be if a child observed two of his/peers arguing over a toy. If
one child gains control of the toy through force (e.g. by hitting the other child) they have
been rewarded for behaving aggressively. The aggressive behaviour has been vicariously
reinforced for the observer and this may lead to imitation of the aggressive behaviour.
4 basic processes of social learning
Attention on the model (someone similar in age or sex or in a position of power
such as a parent, teacher or celebrity) showing the behaviour
Retention remembering the behaviour of the model
Motivation having a good reason for copying the behaviour
Reproduction copying the behaviour (if the observer has the confidence that
they can imitate the behaviour referred to by Bandura as self-efficacy).
Self-efficacy is an important aspect of social learning. If a person believes that
they are capable of carrying out the behaviour which they have observed and
that they are likely to achieve the desired result, then the aggressive act is more
likely to be imitated. This helps to explain individual differences in behaviour. It
also explains why an individual will behaviour aggressively in one situation where
they feel confident of success and not in another where the chances of success
are less likely. For example, a child who is challenged for a toy will not
necessarily retaliate if the aggressor is much bigger than they are, but may
choose to use aggression against a smaller child.
The person being observed (the model) is also an important factor in social
learning. An individual is more likely to be influenced by a person with status and
power. The likelihood that particular model will be imitated is also increased if
the model is deemed to be similar to the individual in some way for example
gender. Similarity helps to increase the sense of self-efficacy. Parents are
powerful role models (not in what they say so much as in how they behave).

Social learning theory; Deindividuation; Cue Arousal; Relative Deprivation.
Explanations of institutional aggression

Research shows that children subjected to physical punishment in childhood

often use violence themselves in later life (Baron and Richardson, 1994).

Powerful models may also be presented through the media and much concern
has been expressed about the depiction of aggressive models on television in
films and video games. Models may have a particularly powerful influence if they
are seen to have gained high status or wealth through their aggression.


Evaluation of social learning theory
In the early 1960s Bandura and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments
designed to demonstrate the imitation of aggression. They became known as The Bobo
Doll Studies due to the use of a large inflatable doll in the shape of a skittle that sprang
back when hit.
Bandura and his colleagues carried out many variations of a study using the
Bobo doll. The conclusion of these studies was that human behaviour is often
shaped by the socio-cultural processes of social learning.
BANDURAS BOBO DOLL STUDY You will not be required to describe the
study in the exam
In the original study a total of 72 one corner, while the
child participants were used. There adult role model went to
were an equal number of boys and another corner of the
girls used. Each child went through room. The adult had a
the process individually but took part construction set, a mallet
in one of two conditions: they either and a Bobo doll that was 5 feet tall.
saw an aggressive model or non- The experimenter left, and after a
aggressive model. Within the few minutes of playing with the
aggressive experimental group half construction set the aggressive role
saw a same-sex model interacting model started to hit the Bobo doll.
aggressively with the bob doll while The role model used both physical
the remainder watched an opposite- and verbal violence. Physical actions
sex model doing the same. The same included hitting the Bobo doll
balance was used in the non- repeatedly with the mallet. Verbal
aggressive condition. comments like take that Bobo or
The control group of 24 children went sockeroo were also heard by the
through the same process but did not child. In the non-aggressive condition
see an adult role model interact with the role model simply ignored the
the Bobo doll. The children were Bobo doll and continued to play with
previously rated for their level of the construction set.
aggressiveness in order to compare Ten minutes later the experimenter
their behaviour before and after the returned. The role model was asked
process. This enabled them to to leave. The child was then asked to
establish cause and effect. follow the experimenter to another
Initially, the child entered a playroom playroom, which contained some
with an adult role model and an lovely toys. Frustration was created
experimenter. The child played in in the child by only giving them a few

Social learning theory; Deindividuation; Cue Arousal; Relative Deprivation.
Explanations of institutional aggression

minutes in this room before they The children who witnessed the

3 Page
were told that these nice toys were aggressive role models behaviour
for other children. The child was then were far more likely to show
taken to another room with other aggressive behaviour themselves,
toys. In this last room there was a and the gender of the role model had
Bobo doll and some aggressive toys a significant influence on whether
(e.g. a mallet and a dart gun) and the behaviour was imitated. Boys
some non-aggressive toys (e.g. showed more aggressive behaviour
paper and crayons, toy lorries and when the role model was male. For
cars, dolls and a tea set). Sitting girls, while the same trend was seen,
behind a two-way mirror, Bandura it was less significant. This might be
and his colleagues were able to partly explained by the
observe the childrens behaviour. generalisation that boys on the
whole are more aggressive than girls.

In variations to his original study, Bandura showed that rewarding the behaviour
of the model encouraged the imitation of it. This process is known as vicarious

Banduras theory helps us to explain why children might copy aggressive

behaviour. The theory has face validity (i.e. it is true at on the face of it) through
its explanation of how the behaviour of role models such as TV personalities and
pop stars can be imitated. His theory has been used to explain other types of
behaviour such as deviance and eating disorders as it is likely that behaviour
observed in the media is copied by some individuals who are motivated by
certain role models and their behaviour.
However, Banduras theory, like most behavioural theories, can be accused of
being deterministic as it suggests that a child passively absorbs observed
behaviour and imitates it without logical thought about the implications of it. It
should be considered that in a real life situation, the childrens behaviour may
not be quite as predictable as in the artificial situation that Bandura created. The
children may have been responding to demand characteristics as they were
brought to the location of the experiment everyday knowing that they were
taking part in something a bit special. In fact, one little boy was heard to tell his
mother in the car park that this is where you are supposed to hit the doll.
Children generally like to please adults and, to this extent, Bandura may have
overestimated the importance of the intended role model as the main influencing
force in the experiment. Bobo dolls are also made for punching and pushing
around and this could also have influenced the children. Banduras experimental
methodology was well controlled; the children all had the same experience and
their responses were coded reliably. The validity of a theory is often assessed by
the amount and quality of research evidence that supports it and, in the case of
Learning Theory other researchers have similarly identified imitation to be a
causal factor in aggression. However, overall his experiment may have lacked
ecological validity due to the artificiality of the setting and the demand cues
outlined above.
Furthermore, Bandura was a Western researcher working in a first-world country
and could be accused of imposed etic because he assumes that the processes of
learning are the same for all people in all countries and cultures (i.e. universal).
Bandura was also aware of potential biological factors influencing aggressive
behaviour such as genetic, bio-chemical or neuro-anatomical causes but he
neglected to pay attention to these.
More recent discoveries concerning the role of biology in imitating behaviour
were made in the 1990s when Rizzolatti and his colleagues discovered a group of
cells in the brain that they named mirror neurons. Mirror neurons become active
when we see another person perform an action in the same way as if we were
performing the action ourselves. They allow us to experience what others are
doing and feeling and their discovery has major implications for our
understanding of the social learning of aggression because it suggests that
imitating behaviour may be biologically based rather than psychological (nature-
nurture debate). Potentially, the discovery of mirror neurons is a major
breakthrough in understanding of human aggression although research is still in
its early stages.

Learning Objectives- You will be able to:
Explain how deindividuation contributes to
aggressive behaviour with reference to

When people are in a large group or crowd, they tend to lose a sense of their individual
identity and take on the identity of the group. This can make them commit acts of
aggression and violence that they wouldn't normally commit. They do not take
responsibility for these acts. A good example is that of
football hooliganism. There are two factors involved with

Public self-awareness - This is an

individual's sense that others are aware of
them and that they are identifiable to others.
Private self-awareness - This is the individual's own sense of awareness
of himself, his thoughts, actions, beliefs, etc.

Both of these factors decrease in deindividuation.

Deindividuation refers to the process of decreased self-assessment and awareness in

situations where identification of an individual is difficult if not impossible. For example, a
child with a Power Rangers mask on is deindividuated. An individual football supporter
amidst a much larger crowd of supporters is deindividuated, as is a person in a crowded
music arena. So, any situation where individual identification is restricted ensures that
changes in the normal standards of behaviour occur.
Singer, Brush and Lublin (1965) show very clearly that when inhibitions are lowered
in a group situation the topic of conversation can change quite dramatically. For example,
they showed that in a discussion of pornography members liked the group more and
made increased contributions on the topic when they felt that their individuality had
been reduced.
Zimbardo suggested that sensory overload, altered states of consciousness, level of
arousal and reduction of responsibility could equally increase the likelihood of antisocial
behaviour. In each case inhibitions surrounding normal behaviour are reduced.
Zimbardo (1969) showed dramatically the effect of reduced inhibitions. He used female
undergraduates in a study of learning. A stooge is used to play the role of a student.
The female participants played the teacher. The student had to complete a set of tasks
(very similar to those given by Milgram in his studies of obedience) and electric shocks
were delivered to the stooge student if they completed the tasks wrongly.
Half of the female participants were wearing large lab coats and hoods to cover their
faces. They were talked to in groups of four; they were never referred to by name and
were the deindividuated group. The other group wore their normal clothes, were given
name tags and introduced to each other formally. They were not deindividuated. All
participants could see the student. They were also told that she was either honest or
conceited and critical. Irrespective of the description of the student learner, the
deindividuated participants delivered twice as many shocks as the
individuated ones. Those participants that had large name tags
tended to give different amounts of shocks depending on the
description they had been given.
Diener (1976) conducted a naturalistic observation of 1,300 trick-or-
treating children in the US. Diener noted that when the children were
in large groups and wearing costumes hiding their identity, they were more likely to
perform antisocial actions such as stealing money or sweets. The group reduces the
possibility of personal identification, which means that behaviour may deviate
from normal standards.

Similarly, Silke (2003) analysed 500 violent attacks occurring in Northern
Ireland. Of those 500 a total of 206 were carried out by people who wore some
form of disguise so that their identity was unknown. Silke further noted that the
severity of the violent incidents sustained was linked to whether the perpetrator
was masked or not. It seems from evidence such as this that aggressive acts can
be explained by the deindividuation theory.
One of the fundamental problems of this theory is the fact that it cannot provide
an explanation for the simple fact that not all crowds or groups perform
aggressive actions. This was seen in the work of Gergen et al (1973), in which
deindividuation did not result in aggressive actions. In Gergen et als study, 12
subjects (6 men and 6 women) were taken into a dark room. There was no light at all in
this room. Another group of 12 subjects were taken into a lit room. This was the control
group. The groups were given no specific requests or instructions from the experimenter
and could use the time as they wished.
In the first 15 minutes there was polite small talk. By 60 minutes normal barriers to
intimate contact had been overcome and most participants got physical. At least half
cuddled and about 80% felt sexually aroused.

Computer-mediated communication (email, text etc.) facilitates

deindividuation. Topics of conversation may be more perverse or varied
without embarrassment.
Bloodstein (2003) noted that individuals who had speech problems such as
stuttering showed fewer of these problems when wearing a mask. It might be
that not being able to be identified increased their self-efficacy and decreased
opportunities for evaluation apprehension (fear of being assessed by others).
Mullen (1986) has also shown that in violent situations where people
are being attacked, individuals who went to provide help to the
victim often would do so if they could mask their true identity, for
example by wearing a hat and dark glasses.
In a correlational study, Watson (1973) noted that from a
total of 24 cultures studied, those warriors that disguised their
individual identity through the use of face paint/garments tended to use more
aggression such as torture, death or mutilation of captives.
However, to simply suggest that the cause of aggression was due to the lowering
of inhibitions is somewhat narrow. It is rather deterministic to suggest that
deindividuation in a group brings about aggressive behaviour as it doesnt allow
for free will and the fact that some individuals choose not to behave aggressively
even when they are part of a large crowd and are deindividuated. Furthermore,
in a meta-analysis of deindividuation research conducted by Postmes and
Spears (1998), much of the previous research examining deindividuation held
the view that the group influenced the psychology (the thinking and action) of
the individual. Postmes and Spears analysis of over 60 studies investigating
deindividuation did not discover a consistent finding of deindividuation acting as
a psychological influence on the individuals state and behaviour.
Their meta-analysis reveals that there are no consistent research findings to
support the argument that reduced inhibitions and antisocial behaviour are more
likely to be seen in large groups or crowded situations where anonymity can be
maintained with ease. Interestingly they suggest that behaviour change of
individuals in group situations has more to do with group norms than anything

Learning Objectives- You will be able to:
Explain how cue arousal contributes to aggressive behaviour with reference to
Frustration leads to anger (Dollards frustration/aggression hypothesis (1939), but Berkowitz
and LePage (1967) argue that if cues such as a knife or a gun are present in the situation, they will
influence the individuals behaviour and anger may be expressed as aggression.
RESEARCH EVIDENCE Berkowitz and LePage (1967)
Method Experiment
Design Independent groups
Sample 100 undergraduate psychology students from the University of Wisconsin.
Procedure Each of the participants was paired with a stooge.
They were told they were taking part in a study of the physiological reactions to stress during
problem-solving tasks. Ethical issue deception and lack of informed consent
Part one of the experiment
Participant in one room with stooge in adjoining room.
Mild electric shocks were given by the stooge using a shock key which could be held down or not so
that shocks were either quick or more prolonged.
The participants received the shocks from the stooge and were told that the number of shocks they
received was indicative of their performance on a problem-solving task. The poorer the
performance the more shocks they received.
Condition one Participants received multiple shocks
Condition two Participants received only one shock.
The participants that received the most shocks were in the angry group.
The participants who received only one shock were in the non-angry group.
Part two of the experiment
The subject and stooge changed rooms. The participants now had to judge their partners
performance on the task and issue the shocks.
Condition one a 12-guage shotgun and a .38 calibre revolver were in view in
the room.
Condition two a badminton racket and shuttlecocks were in view in view in the
Berkowitz measured the amount of shocks given to the partner as measurement of anger.
The angry group gave more shocks and held the shock key down for longer when the shotgun and
revolver were in view compared to the participants who could see the badminton racket and
The research was conducted in an artificial environment and was not an everyday situation as the
present of firearms is unusual. Therefore it is possible that the participants fulfilled the
experimenters expectations because that was what they thought they should do. Their behaviour
may have been the result of demand characteristics rather than a reflection of what they would do
in a genuine situation.
It is possible that the results of the study were affected by the participants knowledge that they
were taking part in an experiment and that there would be no consequences to pay for their
actions. Kleck and McElrath (1991) looked at 21 weapons effect studies and stated that the
effect only worked on those individuals who had no prior experience of guns. Furthermore, the
more closely the experimental situation reflected real life, the less likely there was to be an effect.
Kleck and McElrath argued that it should not be too surprising since the consequences of the
actions were neither serious nor permanent. When the result of the reaction is lethal, this is quite a
different matter.
Kellerman (2001) notes that the strongest proof of validity of any study is the independent
replication by others. The greatest problem with the study is that no consistent trends have been
found in subsequent replications of this study. Findings have been unreliable.
The theory extends the frustration-aggression hypothesis, but ignores important individual
differences that exist between people. Furthermore, other studies have not supported the findings
of Berkowitz and LePage. Ellis et al (1971) carried out a very similar experiment and got
opposite results. It is more likely that aggressive behaviour is caused by other factors. It is a
weakness of the cue arousal theory that important cognitive and biological causes of behaviour are
not mentioned in the explanation. Multidimensional explanations could be more accurate.

Learning objectives: You will be able to:
Explain how relative deprivation can contribute to aggressive behaviour with reference to
The theory was created by Stouffer in 1950, but based on the work of Hovland and Sears in 1940 who
noticed that during the 1930s recession in the US, there was an increase in anti-black violence and lynching.
A conscious comparison generates feelings of difference which is the basis for antisocial behaviour. Inequalities
between groups seem to bring about hostility between them and there have been many riots between such
groups, for example:
*The race riots in Chicago 1919 *Notting Hill, London, 1958 *Los Angeles 1992
*Brixton, London 1981 *Handsworth, Birmingham, 1981 *Bradford and Oldham, 2001 *The riots in
London 2011
One group sees what other groups have and feel that they should be able to have access to those things too
e.g. wages, housing, job opportunities, security etc.
Runcimann (1966) identified two types of relative deprivation:
fraternalistic relative deprivation as it involves group-to group comparison.
Egoistic relative deprivation involves comparison between individuals.
Wright and Klee (1999) suggest that social mobility (transition up and down a class system) would reduce
the effects of relative deprivation.
A potential problem with the theory is that it says very little about how we decide what group to compare
ourselves with. There are cognitive processes at work in terms of self-perception and comparison.
The following article can be found at
Relative deprivation was a term first coined by Sam Stouffer and his associates in their wartime study The
American Soldier (1949), relative deprivation was rigorously formulated by W G Runciman in 1966. Its use in
criminology was not until the 1980s by theorists such as S Stack, John Braithwaite and particularly the left
realists for whom it is a key concept. Its attraction as an explanatory variable in the post-war period is because
of the rise of crime in the majority of industrial societies despite the increase in living standards. That is, where
material deprivation in an absolute sense declined and the old equation of the more poverty the more crime
was clearly falsified.
Relative Deprivation occurs where individuals or groups subjectively perceive themselves as unfairly
disadvantaged over others perceived as having similar attributes and deserving similar rewards (theirerence
groups). It is in contrast with absolute deprivation, where biological health is impaired or where relative levels
of wealth are compared based on objective differences - although it is often confused with the latter. Subjective
experiences of deprivation are essential and, indeed, relative deprivation is more likely when the differences
between two groups narrows so that comparisons can be easily made than where there are caste-like
differences. The discontent arising from relative deprivation has been used to explain radical politics (whether
of the left or the right), messianic religions, the rise of social movements, industrial disputes and the whole
plethora of crime and deviance.
The usual distinction made is that religious fervour or demand for political change are a collective response to
relative deprivation whereas crime is an individualistic response. But this is certainly not true of many crimes -
for example, smuggling, poaching or terrorism - which have a collective nature and a communal base and does
not even allow for gang delinquency which is clearly a collective response. The connection is, therefore, largely
under-theorised - a reflection of the separate development of the concept within the seemingly discrete
disciplines of sociology of religion, political sociology and criminology.
The use of relative deprivation in criminology is often conflated with Merton's anomie theory of crime and
deviance and its development by Cloward and Ohlin, and there are discernible, although largely unexplored,
parallels. Anomie theory involves a disparity between culturally induced aspirations (eg success in terms of the
American Dream) and the opportunities to realise them. The parallel is clear: this is a subjective process
wherein discontent is transmuted into crime. Furthermore, Merton in his classic 1938 article, 'Social Structure
and Anomie' (where norms have broken down), clearly understands the relative nature of discontent explicitly
criticising theories which link absolute deprivation to crime by pointing to poor countries with low crime rates in
contrast to the wealthy United States with a comparatively high rate. But there are clear differences, in
particular Mertonian anomie involves an inability to realise culturally induced notions of success. It does not
involve comparisons between groups but individuals measuring themselves against a general goal. The fact
that Merton, the major theorist of reference groups, did not fuse this with his theory of anomie is, as Runciman
notes, very strange but probably reflects the particular American concern with 'winners' and 'losers' and the
individualism of that culture. The empirical implications of this difference in emphasis are, however, significant:
anomie theory would naturally predict the vast majority of crime to occur at the bottom of society amongst the
'losers' but relative deprivation theory does not necessarily have this overwhelming class focus. For discontent
can be felt anywhere in the class structure where people perceive their rewards as unfair compared to those
with similar attributes. Thus crime would be more widespread although it would be conceded that discontent
would be greatest amongst the socially excluded.
The future integration of anomie and relative deprivation theory offers great promise in that relative deprivation
offers a much more widespread notion of discontent and its emphasis on subjectivity insures against the
tendency within anomie theory of merely measuring objective differences in equality (so called 'strain' theory)
whereas anomie theory, on its part, offers a wider structural perspective in terms of the crucial role of
differential opportunity structures and firmly locates the dynamic of deprivation within capitalist society as a

Learning objectives: You will be able to:
Understand what is meant by institutional aggression
Explain potential causes of institutional aggression
Evaluate theoretically the explanations for institutional aggression

When aggression and violence occur within an institutionalised setting it often

attracts the attention of the media. This is due to the fact that rules and
expectations of behaviour have been transgressed. Institutions are often created
to maintain order and combat anti-social behaviour so when this goes wrong
questions are raised about the effectiveness of these institutions. This form of
aggression involves the behaviour of people who serve in institutions such as
schools, healthcare settings, police, security services and military as well as
criminal and terrorist groups (i.e. those who are bound together by a common
purpose to be aggressive).
Institutional aggression can be explained by deindividuation.
The loss of personal identity that results from wearing a uniform either as a
police officer or prison guard may go some way to explaining the likelihood that
people will display aggression. Removing an individuals own clothes and
replacing them with a uniform plays a major part in depersonalising them within
an institutional setting. Deindividuation may also
occur amongst prisoners whose heads are shaved
and who are given matching clothing to wear.
However, the removal of individuality in this
instance is more likely to dehumanise the prisoners
and make them targets of aggression. Police in riot
gear are difficult to identify because partial masks
and visors cover their faces. Officers in the 2009
G20 protests were criticised for covering up their individual identity numbers in
order to make themselves even more anonymous. Anonymity may encourage
aggression by lessening the likelihood of being caught or through the loss of
personal values and morals. The anonymity of police officers, particularly when
in large groups, may also make them seem less human, and this fact in turn may
be more likely to incite violence from a rioting crowd so that they become victims
of assault.
Uniforms can also help to define roles. A persons behaviour may change in
accordance with the expectations afforded to the role they have adopted, and
the wearing of a uniform can help them to get into role. Uniforms are
synonymous with institutions whether hospitals, the police force, prisons or
schools. Even colleges and universities adopt the use of scarves or sweatshirts to
denote membership of a particular house or fraternity.

Rules and norms are also a characteristic of institutions. There is often a

hierarchy which has an us and them aspect to it where one group has power
over the other group leading to social inequality. Each persons role is instantly
identifiable by what they are wearing, with people in positions of power often
denoted by a uniform that bears the symbols of their status and authority.

Aggression in institutions can be considered in terms of two forces:

Situational forces
Dispositional forces
The question to consider here is whether some people are just
aggressive and do violent things to other people because of the type
of person they are (disposition) or whether good people do bad
things when they are put into a situation that encourages aggressive
behaviour (situational). Zimbardo created such a situation in his
Stanford Prison Study.
Zimbardos Stanford prison simulation (1973)
Zimbardo set up a prison situation (in the basement of Stanford university). Participants
were randomly assigned to prison guards or prisoners. The aim was to see if they would
conform to the role.
The guards behaved in a cruel fashion, the experiment got out of hand and had to be
ended early.
Some prisoners showed signs of Pathological prisoner syndrome in which disbelief
was followed by an attempt at rebellion and then by very negative emotions and
behaviours such as apathy and excessive obedience.
Many showed signs of depression such as crying and some had
fits of rage. Zimbardo put these effects down to
depersonalisation or deindividuation due to loss of personal
identity and lack of control.
The guards showed the Pathology of power. They clearly
enjoyed their role; some even worked unpaid overtime and were
disappointed when the experiment was stopped. Many abused
their power refusing
prisoners food and toilet
visits, removing their
bedding etc. Punishment
was handed out with little justification.

Most notable was the way in which the good guards

never questioned the actions of the bad guards.
However, the experiment was a role play so it could
be argued that it lacked realism and that
participants behaved as they thought they were
expected behave. In other words, the participants
could have been just playing along. However, there is evidence for the guards not just
simply role playing, for example their brutal behaviour wasnt there at the start but
developed over the first few days and they did not play up to the cameras as might be
expected. In fact their behaviour was worse when they knew they werent being
observed. So, was it more to do with the individual than the situation?

Each participant was subjected to physical and psychological testing before the study to
ensure that they would be suitable participants. All of them were considered normal
with no participant being assessed as any more aggressive than the others. The testing
allowed a basis for comparison. Participants were then
randomly allocated to the role of prison guard or prisoner.
Dave Eshleman was one of the participants who was
assigned to the role of prison guard. Eshleman became
known as John Wayne and seemed to revel in the role. He
was creative in his cruelty devising new ways to torment
and punish the prisoners in the study. He was the most
degrading of all guards.

Was it Eshlemans disposition to be so aggressive? He

came from a middle class family, academic family.
Eshleman loved music, food and other people and described himself as a person that
clearly held great love for his fellow human beings.

Was it then, just the situation Eshleman was in that corrupted his normal way of thinking
so that he subjected the prisoners to a relentless series of little experiments (as he
described it)?

Abu Ghraib
In a real life prison situation in Abu Ghraib, Iraqi prisoners were subjected to
dehumanising and degrading treatment. This time, Zimbardo was called
upon to be an expert witness in the defence of one of the prison guards who
had been involved in the cruel treatment of the prisoners. He argued that
the behaviour of the guard was the product of the situational forces of being
a guard in that particular prison environment, and not due to dispositional
characteristics. Zimbardos thoughts about Abu Ghraib automatically focused on the
circumstances in the prison cell block that could have led good soldiers to do bad
things. Zimbardo argues that it is bad systems that are the problem rather than bad
individuals. Rather than one bad apple turning other apples bad, Zimbardo insists that
bad barrels are the problem, i.e. bad institutions.
Human behaviour has more than one simple influence, and the behaviours witnessed at
Abu Ghraib were the result of interplay between several key factors:
Status and power: those involved were the bottom of the barrel. They were army
reservists on a night shift and were not supervised by a superior officer. With little of their
own power, these soldiers were trying to demonstrate some control over anything that was
inferior to them (i.e. the prisoners).
Revenge and retaliation: the prisoners had killed fellow US soldiers and some of them had
been guilty of abusing children. The guards therefore felt justified in humiliating them in
order to teach them a lesson. They considered the prisoners to be less than human and
having dehumanised them the guards felt able to unleash their anger on them.
Deindividuation and helplessness: Zimbardo felt that the guards responded to violent and
selfish impulses without any planned conspiracy or inhibition partly because they could in
the absence of the superior authority. They were unseen and, in a sense, at the mercy of
their own feelings towards the prisoners who were the enemy. It was a fellow guard who
was brave enough to follow his convictions and report the behaviour of the guards. It was
their own photos taken with their own cameras which provided the evidence against them.
It is interesting to note that the instigator of the atrocities was..........a woman!

Issues with studying institutional aggression

Researching this field of aggression is difficult. Detail is often just biographical and is hard
to make a scientific study of the individualistic or situational causes that lie behind the
behaviour. Furthermore, information in this area is socially sensitive in that it could have
repercussions for a select group of people. Thought has to be given as to how the
material gained by the research will be collected, used and published. From a practical
point of view it would be very hard for a researcher to control all variables in naturally
occurring situations in a controlled way. From this point of view it would be very difficult
to establish cause and effect.
Bernards angry aggression theory can be used to examine the causes of
institutionalised aggression in the police force. It could be argued that factors such as
the chronic stress of police work, along with the inability to respond to the actual sources
of that stress, increase the aggressive nature of responses that police make. Bernards
view of there being a police subculture is not new and can be traced back to the earlier
work of Westley (1970). Bernard (and Westley) suggest that aggression is seen as just
and acceptable and even expected in some situations partly because the working
environment of most police officers is mainly structured by what Bernard calls codes of
deviance, secrecy, silence and cynicism. So it is the working environment of the police
officers that in some sense leads them to show aggressive behaviours.
Rober Agnew (1992) suggests in his work on the general strain theory that negative
experiences and stress generate negative affective states that may, in the absence of
effective coping strategies, lead to violent behaviour.
Strain emerges from negative relationships with others. The strain occurs when
individuals feel they are not being treated in a manner that they think is appropriate. Of
this happens, a subsequent disbelief in the role of others will occur and it is possible that
anger and frustration can result from these negative relationships.

Educational settings fraternities (males) and sororities (females)
In stark contrast to prison institutions are the fraternities and sororities established as
support networks for undergraduate students within the United States college system.
Despite the contrast surprising similarities exist between these two forms of
institution. Fraternities in particular have been criticised for
the use of force in their initiations and in condoning the
sexual assault of women. The tradition known as hazing is
the ritualistic harassment of abuse of an individual or a
group. Acts can include burning and branding, kidnapping,
drugging and sexual abuse. Probationary members may
experience mental and physical stress over periods of
weeks or months as a way of proving that they are worthy of membership to a particular
fraternity or sorority.
According to research by Nuwer (1990) hazing has contributed to more than 50 deaths in
college fraternities and many physical injuries including paralysis. In most states across
America, hazing is now illegal and campaigns are under way to try to curb these brutal
practices. The extreme behaviour that occurs in these groups can be explained using the
theory of identification. Young men and women are prepared to to take part in potentially
life-threatening activities in order to belong to a group. Many of the groups have high
status, and acceptance can have implications that reach far beyond the students life at
university. Fraternities and sororities are often shrouded in secrecy: this makes them
difficult to control, but also makes their victims more vulnerable, as members are
unwilling to speak out for fear of breaking the code.
Black (2004) says pure terrorism is unilateral self-help by organised civilians who
covertly inflict mass violence on other civilians. Black believes that the root cause of
current terrorism is a culture clash.
Deflem (2004) extends this view by suggesting that the division between situational
and dispositional causes may not be so clear as we think. He talks of predatory
characteristics of terrorism which help us to see the terrorist action, but these should be
seen within a wider understanding of anti-modernist impulses, e.g. an opposition to
free markets, liberal democracy and associated Western norms. Deflem says that
contemporary terrorism represents contrasting institutional balance of power dominated
by family, ethnicity and religion. This is a situational explanation whereas Barak (2004)
suggests more of dispositional nature to this aggressive motive in his study of suicide
terrorism. According to Barak, a key motivational component of violent behaviour is
issues of shame, esteem and repressed anger.
On a lesser scale, this could be compared to the situation of disaffected young males who
participate in street violence in gang or gun culture in the UK or the USA. Often these
individuals experience both economic and political marginalisation. However, the main
thread of Baraks argument is somewhat lost when we examine the background of many
of the 9/11 terrorists and 7/7 bombers as many of these Islamic terrorists were university
educated and came from very supportive and often materially affluent families.
Methodological flaws in research into terrorist action
Terrorist action is often unique and so it is difficult to draw
up a profile of a terrorist or of a terrorist group.
Terrorist groups are increasingly fluid and mobile (using the
internet to communicate) and so there is not really a typical
There is a real lack of empirical data for each terrorist
event, so it is difficult to draw conclusions.
Aggressive behaviour is more dynamic than simply having
social or institutional motives. Observation of aggression in individuals suggests
the need to examine possible biological explanations.