Aggressive Behavior (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Common Causes and Antecedents of Aggressive Behavior


Research indicates that antisocial behavior, including aggression, "appears to be a developmental trait that begins early in life and often continues into adolescence and adulthood" (Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989, p. 329). According to a number of researchers, antisocial behavior develops as a result of the student's behavior and interaction with the social environment (Finkelhor, 1995; Landy & Peters, 1992; Patterson, 1992) and the student's parents (Hollenstein, Granic, Stoolmiller, & Snyder, 2004). Patterson and colleagues maintain that these behaviors occur in stages and that behaviors of one stage will result in certain predictable reactions from the student's social environment, leading to further actions from the student.

During the first stage of aggressive behavior development, family variables, such as harsh parental discipline and poor adult supervision, result in the student being "trained" to engage in aggressive behavior such as hitting. These behaviors become functional in the sense that the student may be allowed to escape from tasks when he or she acts aggressively. For example, a student may be sent to her room after hitting her brother while they do dishes. Also, aggressive behaviors may be positively reinforced through laughter, attention, and approval, which results in maintenance of the behaviors. Students in these situations do not learn socially skillful responses to others, but they learn aggressive behavior that results in meeting their needs.

Following this stage, students who are aggressive often find themselves rejected by their peer group and experiencing academic failure (Patterson et al., 1989). Having learned aggressive behaviors in early childhood, these students become rejected because they do not demonstrate the social skills that allow them to be socially competent with peers. This idea is in contrast to that of others who believe that students become aggressive after they are rejected by their peers and/ or fail academically.

Patterson et al. (1989) and Wood et al. (2002) report that students who engage in aggressive behaviors spend less time on academic tasks and have more difficulty with classroom survival skills (e.g., staying in seat, answering questions). These behaviors result in a higher incidence of academic failure. Once students have learned aggressive behavior and experienced peer rejection and academic failure, they are at a higher risk for developing delinquent behavior (Lancelotta & Vaughn, 1989; Patterson et al., 1989; Wahler & Dumas, 1986). These students have a tendency to become involved with deviant peer groups who also engage in aggressive behaviors (e.g., fighting, property damage). The members of the groups positively reinforce these actions, thus increasing the probability of their repeated occurrence. Unfortunately, long-term outcomes for students who seemingly follow this developmental sequence of aggressive behavior are not generally desirable. Students who engage in antisocial behavior throughout childhood and adolescence are at an extremely high risk for becoming school dropouts, having difficulty maintaining employment, committing crimes, and having marital difficulties.

Modeled Aggressive Behavior

On any given day, students are faced with many instances that result in feelings of anger, frustration, and/or humiliation. These feelings often result in students reacting aggressively. The most commonly accepted cause for aggressive behavior is that these behaviors are learned through modeling (e.g., Bandura, 1973; Kronenberger et al., 2005; Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 1991; Widom, 1989). For example, students observe aggressive behavior models when adults engage in verbally abusive or physical punishment of students. Hyman and Perone (1998) studied victimization of students in school settings and found that teachers, administrators, and other school personnel consistently used aggressive behavior toward students in the name of discipline, and students learn that it is acceptable to hit others when one is upset or angry.

Students cannot be expected to expand their repertoire of responses to anger if they see only a limited number of inappropriate responses modeled. Teachers can model appropriate alternatives to aggressive behavior by remaining calm in anger-inducing situations, talking out the problem, or walking away from the problem until they feel calm enough to discuss the situation. This alternative to aggression can be modeled and practiced in a formal social skills training.

Rudo, Powell, and Dunlap (1998) report on a review of the literature related to the effects of modeled aggressive behavior and students' social, emotional, and behavioral functioning. They reviewed 27 studies and offer compelling evidence that students exposed to violence in their homes are at greater risk for developing behavior problems themselves.

Media Influence

The media also offer plenty of aggressive models for students through TV programs geared to the interest of young persons (Hughes, 1996; Lieberman, cited in Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). Lieberman suggests that students who are exposed to media violence become desensitized to aggressive and violent behavior. This factor has led to increased levels of violent and aggressive behavior among youth (Walker et al., 1995). Widom (1989) reviewed the literature on the relationship of TV violence to aggressive behavior in students and concluded that television violence was clearly related to aggressive behavior. One has to watch only a few minutes of professional wrestling on TV, a popular show for young boys, to understand the problem. Unfortunately, many parents, especially fathers, don't realize the negative influence these shows have on their sons' behavior at home and school. But teachers see the effects every day.

Many studies have focused on the relationship between television and video game violence and subsequent manifestation of aggressive behavior in students (Friedrich-Cofer & Huston, 1986; Kronenberger et al., 2005). A review of longitudinal studies revealed that viewing TV violence at one age correlated with aggressive behaviors demonstrated at a later age. "Of a large number of parent, family, and socioeconomic variables measured at age 8, television was the single best predictor of aggression in 18-year-olds" (Friedrich-Cofer & Huston, 1986, p. 367). Students who are exposed to high levels of media violence become desensitized to aggression and violence. Interestingly, Wied, Goudena, and Matthys (2005) found that 8- to 12-year-old boys referred for disruptive behaviors were found to show less empathy to sad situations than an age-matched control group. These findings present serious implications for our society in the face of the expanding and increasingly violent movies and games available to students through cable television and DVD /videotape rentals.

Violence and aggression are also apparent in many video and computer games, which are easily accessed by students and teenagers. Producers of these games say that blaming schoolyard killings such as those experienced in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on video games is society's way of taking the focus off of other causes of aggression such as poverty and access to guns. However, Grossman (cited in Cummins, 1999) suggests that video and computer games may condition youngsters and others to kill without thinking as they become increasingly insensitive to the effects of violence.

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