Outline and Evaluate theories and research explaning institutional aggression Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 8 September 2017

Outline and Evaluate theories and research explaning institutional aggression

Institutional aggression is a form of aggression which is present in institutions such as the police, armed forces and security services, as well as criminal and terrorist groups (i.e. those who are bound together by a common purpose to be aggressive). There have been a number of theories developed to try and explain the cause of institutional aggression. The theories fall into two categories which are situational factors (referring to factors present in social situations), and dispositional factors (referring to characteristics of the individual e.g. personality).

The first theory trying to explain intuitional aggression is based on situational factors was Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment. In this experiment a sample of 24 male participants (pps) was used and each pps was given a full physical and mental evaluation to ensure full health. Pps were randomly allocated into roles as guards or prisoners. As the pps started to get into their roles the guards became more and more controlling. Guard Hellman was found to be one of the most aggressive officers. Before Hellman had entered the experiment he had described himself as someone who loves all people. Zimbardo concluded that it was the ‘situation’ that had made Hellman behave the way he did.

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This research supports the situational explanation of aggression because it emphasises how people will act aggressively when they are in a certain situation. A strength of this study is that cause and effect can be established. This is because Zimbardo’s had control and by removing extraneous variables such as pps being at the same levels of aggression as each other and being given a psychological and mental evaluation before they started the study. This would suggest that the being in the prison environment made the pps to behave more aggressively as they were simply trying to fulfill their roles as prison guards. However the guards were consistently aware that they were in a prison study.

If they were aware that they were in a study they may have believed that their behavior was punishable. If their behavior had become extreme they would have been stopped but as Zimbardo was the one undertaking the study, the guards may have thought that he would be responsible if anything went wrong, (agentic shift). This suggests that the guards were not responsible for their actions as they were acting as directed. So therefore this study does not support the situational explanation of aggression as the pps were aware that this was a study and may have only been acting in the way they thought they were expected to act. The study of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was not a study and it was a real life scenario so this would be a better example to I=use for explaining situational factors to aggression.

Abu Ghraib was a prison in Iraq where US troops kept Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs). The prison came after fire after US soldiers took pictures showing how them dehumanizing and degrading the POWs. Zimbardo was a key witness at the trial of these soldiers and argued that their behavior was merely the product of situational factors associated with being a soldier and being a guard in such a unique environment.

He continued to argue that a lot of US soldiers were being murdered in Iraq and the situation within the prison was enough to turn a good soldier bad. Zimbardo stated some key factors that may have resulted in the behavior at Abu Ghraib. He noted that the status and power of those involved was a factor that may have contributed to the behavior of the soldiers. Those who were involved were usually low ranking officers, by doing this they may have thought that would move up in status. Also deindividuation may have caused the soldiers to act in the way the did as they may have been deindividuated because they were wearing a uniform and also because they were in a large group.

This may have caused them not to feel as though they had a personal identity. This scenario is hard to retest or generalise because of the unique nature of the situation. Can these findings even be applied to other soldiers behavior in other wars? The soldiers may have felt that since they were in a seemingly lawless country that there would be no repercussions. So therefore it may have been this unique situation only where this kind of behavior would be seen also as it can not be replicated it is not reliable. Dispositional factors can not be ruled out. To become a soldier you have to be a certain kind of person and have certain traits within that would relate to the job so the soldiers could have certain qualities within them that may have caused them to act in the way they did.

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  • Date: 8 September 2017

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