Social Psychology - Chapter 13

What are the characteristics and causes of aggression and conflict? - Chapter 13



Aggression is described as the behavior with which someone intentionally does another harm. Conflicts are often the cause of aggression. A conflict is the perceived incompatibility of certain goals or opinions of two or more parties.

Two types of aggression can be distinguished from each other. Instrumental aggression is aggression that is used as a means to achieve a certain goal. In this case, aggression is used to meet the need for control. Consider, for example, a violent robbery to steal jewelery. In the case of hostile aggression, on the other hand, aggression is triggered by anger as a result of a threat to self-confidence or social identity (for example, by a public insult).

The origin of aggression

Aggression finds its evolutionary origins in the "survival of the fittest" theory in which survival of the strongest has caused aggression in people. People are developed so that they can effectively provide food and sex partners. In the modern psychological view, it is assumed that humans have a large number of psychological mechanisms and motives, and that aggression has no special place in the "human nature". The motives and mechanisms can be gender-related, so women are less physically and verbally aggressive than men. In this way, aggression is a technique that one uses to obtain rewards or material possessions.


Studying aggression is difficult because aggression is often seen as undesirable. Therefore, one would not willingly display aggressive behavior when observed. However, there are a number of techniques that try to circumvent this. The observation of behavior that occurs naturally is the most common technique.

The research results are consistent, namely that regardless of whether the aggression occurs between individuals or groups, it is almost always triggered by perceptions and interpretations of a particular event or situation.

Inter-personal aggression

What causes aggression between people? Sometimes aggression is the result of the need for control. Potential rewards make this type of aggression more likely, while costs or risks make it less likely.

Aggression can also arise from pure anger, because self-esteem or solidarity with others is threatened (as discussed earlier).

Furthermore, many negative emotions can make aggression more likely. The frustration-aggression theory states that every form of frustration (an obstacle to an important goal) inevitably evokes aggression. Yet it seems that not only frustration, but any negative emotion can evoke aggression. This is especially the case for people with low self-esteem. Men use more physical aggression, women more social, emotional, verbal, relational or indirect aggression. This depends, however, on scripts.

Standards also have an influence on aggressive behavior. This way they can ensure that there is less aggression, or that more aggression takes place. Group norms often encourage aggressiveness. Children who have grown up with aggression in their environment more often exhibit aggressive behavior. This is because they know more situational cues that evoke aggression.

The increase in aggression: models and cues

Other people's aggressive actions can make us think that aggression is appropriate. Also cues in a specific situation, such as the presence of a gun or other weapons, can increase the accessibility of aggression-related thoughts. Both types of factors make aggression more likely.

Figures show that the United States has many offenses. It seems that the standard of family privacy and the right to own weapons play an important role in this. The sense of honor also plays a part in this. On the basis of various studies it was concluded that seeing weapons arouses aggressive thoughts. This is also called the weapon effect. Exposure to aggressive models ensures acceptance of aggressiveness and can thus ensure that aggressive behavior and thoughts are stimulated.

Show or do not show aggression

Research shows that groups who often think or process superficially prefer aggression. Systematic and careful thinking results in a reduced tendency to aggression. In general, what attracts attention has the greatest impact on behavior. However, some factors may lead to people lacking the ability to systematically process, for example when there is emotional excitement (such as threats, trauma, or the presence of weapons). Alcohol consumption and time pressure also mean that people are less able to systematically process and in turn use aggression more often.

In addition, some people are simply better at avoiding aggression than other people. Finally, tainting of honor can be a cause of aggression. However, this differs per culture. People in an honor culture (e.g. South America) are more sensitive to aggressive cues that have to do with honor than people from other cultures.

The "General Aggression Model" is a theory that assumes that personal factors (such as previous experiences with aggression) and situational factors (such as provocation) influence the cognition, emotions and excitement of a person. This "current internal state" then again influences the interpretations of the situation and the type of decision regarding aggression (thoughtful or impulsive).

Group conflicts

Many conflicts arise from competition over material or social rewards. For example, an example of social reward is respect. For the determination of an acceptable level of material / social sources, social equations are used. Conflicting groups are often more focused on social rewards than on material rewards ("respect over riches").

The realistic conflict theory assumes that conflicts and aggression between groups arise through competition about managing scarce and valued material objects. A distinction is made between egoistic relative depravity and fraternity relative deprivation. Selfish relative deprivation is the idea that you as an individual are less good than others. "Brotherhood relative deprivation" means that you feel that your group is worth less than other groups. The latter can have a share in conflicts between groups. The general relative deprivation theory states that feelings of dissatisfaction arise from the conviction that other individuals or other groups are better off.

Escalating conflicts: group communication and interaction

Escalating a conflict can come from poor communication and interaction. Interaction between members from the in-group causes a strengthening of the prevailing opinion, which in turn can create threats towards the other group. Ultimately, this can lead to ever harder retaliation from both groups.

Especially polarization and devotion processes ensure that there is a competitive edge between groups. As soon as there is a conflict, people find it difficult to talk to the 'opponent'. Threats often result in new threats, reduction in compromise, and hostility.

So-called "vicarious retribution" (i.e. revenge) means that members of a group that are not directly harmed by an attack, avenge themselves against members of the attacking group. This can be seen as "they hurt us, now we hurt them".

If two or more groups join forces in order to achieve common goals that they could not achieve individually or less easily, this is called forming a coalition. This often results in the competition being intensified and other groups often experience this as threatening.

Perceptions in conflicts

When the conflict escalates, the in-group sees the out-group as bad, and itself as unrealistically good. Conflict-driven perceptions include that the in-group sees itself as (unjustly) very positive and the out-group as (unjustly) very negative. The in-group can not do anything wrong, while the out-group can not do anything right. A common problem here is reactive devaluation: a negative solution to a conflict, purely and simply because the out-group came up with this idea. It is also thought that the in-group is very powerful. These perceptions influence the understanding of the group about different things.

As soon as there is a conflict, often distorted attributions of behavior occur. The attributions are then distorted in different ways. Actions of the in-group are attributed to situations, while actions of the out-group are attributed to personality traits. The motives of out-group members are also seen as negative, while motives of the in-group members are seen as positive. The emotional excitement that conflicts cause, such as fear, frustration, pain and anger, is capable of influencing perception and communication. In these situations, people are more likely to think simplistically.

Eliminating the out-group

Ultimately an escalation can lead to a group wishing to destroy the other group. At such a moment moral feelings can be excluded. The three "forces" that make such "final solutions" possible are:

  • Inequality in power between groups converts wishes into behavior.

  • The blockade of moral outrage is a consequence of moral exclusion.

  • Routine provides insensitivity.

  • Groups are often more aggressive than individuals. This is because groups want to get their standards for their group members in a row.

Resolve conflicts

Resolving conflicts can be done by getting the parties to reconcile their goals or promote cooperation. Reducing aggression can make people change their thoughts and perceptions about others. Changing situational causes of aggression can also be a solution. Encouraging the display of empathy, for example by bringing people closer together, is also an important step in combating aggression. Resolving conflicts can happen if both groups actively search for acceptable solutions. This process needs understanding and trust, which ensures that groups come closer together and ultimately leads to fewer conflicts.

There are different types of solutions for conflicts:

  • Imposed solution. The imposed solution is typified by the fact that it is prescribed by one party. As a result, the technique is hardly successful.

  • Integrating solution. Integrative solutions are solutions in which no one party has won per se. The profit can apply to both parties, which often also refers to the win-win solution. The 'log-rolling' strategy is included, in which each party gives up things that do not mean much to themselves, but more to the counterparty.

  • Distributive solution. In distributive solutions, mutual satisfaction is sought.

Negotiation is a process in which two or more parties who are in conflict with each other communicate. The goal of a negotiation is mutual understanding of each other's evaluation and interpretation of different things. This must be guarded for reactive devaluation.

Building trust is of great importance in conflict situations and negotiations. Dividing a conflict into smaller partial conflicts gives a sense of trust in solving a partial conflict. The de-escalation of conflicts can take place via the GRIT method. The GRIT method stands for 'graduated and reciprocated initiatives in tension reduction' and aims to reduce stress, build confidence and eventually obtain solutions. First of all, one of the parties must make a concession. On the basis of the standard of reciprocity, the other party also makes a concession and the parties gradually go to an agreement. The aggression must then be stopped and the parties must reach out to each other. This method works best when joint goals are set: As a result, there is more cooperation and one can take each other's perspective more easily.

Cultural differences

Negotiation is also subject to cultural differences and it is therefore important that culture and background are taken into account in negotiation and strategy. For example, in some cultures it is a sign of weakness when making concessions. On the basis of this fact it is therefore not convenient to apply such a strategy.

A mediator is an intermediary that helps the negotiating parties reach an agreement. In arbitration, a third party who has read into the negotiation may take the decision. The intervention of a third party has the advantage that creative solutions can be found, relations between the negotiating groups improve and the intervening party can arrange details so that the other parties can only focus on the conflict.

Changing social identity

So-called "superordinate" goals are goals that can only be achieved through cooperation of two or more groups. There are a number of conditions under which such inter-group collaboration makes sense:

  • The cooperation must be between equals (in any case, they must be equals for the task at hand).

  • The cooperation must ensure that any out-group stereotypes are invalidated.

  • The cooperation must be for a shared purpose, so that there can not be any competition for material and / or social sources.

  • The collaboration must lead to successful results.

  • The cooperation must be supported and promoted by social standards

Collaboration is successful in resolving conflicts because it gives the outgroup a source of rewards (instead of punishment). In addition, cooperation can take place at different levels. For example by increasing the importance of the new group and reducing the importance of group membership in general. Finally, cooperation between groups for "superordinate" goals promises genuine conflict resolution rather than just conflict management.


How and why does supportive behavior and cooperation arise? - Chapter 14

Prosocial behavior is defined as any behavior whose immediate purpose is to help someone else. This can concern everyday, small things as well as heroic deeds. Just as with aggressive behavior, it is the intention with which behavior is initiated and not the consequences of it, that the behavior is defined as prosocial. What motivates prosocial behavior? One possible motive to help is altruism, which is behavior that is meant to help someone else, without thinking of possible future rewards / thanks in mind. So it implies behavior that is purely and solely focused on helping the other person, with no prospect of a reward for the helper. Just as with aggressive behavior, there are often several motives that trigger a single (pro-social) act. Selfishness is the behavior that is controlled by the prospect of a reward for the helper.

Prosocial behavior is the behavior that aims to help other people and is strengthened by, among other things, parents' way of being educated or by a religion with strong norms that promote caring for others.

When does helping behavior occur

For the provision of help it is important that the need for help is observed. Busy environments sometimes want to stand in the way. In order to express helping behavior, it is not only sufficient to perceive the need for help, but we will also consider whether the person seeking help deserves our help. The standard of social responsibility states that those who are able to take good care of themselves have the task and obligation to assist those who can not. The social reciprocity standard also promotes assistance behavior. Role models, religion and upbringing can also promote helping behavior.

Especially in individualistic (Western) cultures, the attributions we make with regard to control play a major role in determining whether we think that the other person deserves help. More specifically, if we think that people are in need due to their own actions, we are less motivated to help than when we think that someone could do little or nothing about the situation.

Even when people feel that help is needed and deserved, this does not always lead to help behavior. If, for example, others are present, this makes sure that someone else helps less quickly. The more others there are, the less accountability is felt and the smaller the chance to offer help. This is also called diffusion of responsibility. The urban overload hypothesis states that people lack support behavior for lack of anonymity than when they are anonymous (when you need help you can call better: "you in that red shirt, help!", Instead of "help!" ). Even if others do not offer help, people are less likely to help. People are less inclined to assess the situation as an emergency. People also think that bystanders will help, this is called the bystander effect. Ambiguous situations also reduce the chance of assistance behavior. A positive mood, however, ensures that people need help more quickly.

Yet there are also standards that do not promote the provision of assistance. These are the standards of family privacy and the norm of 'do not interfere with other people's affairs'. The first standard means that you do not interfere in someone's familial or private life.

Why is there helping behavior?

There are three different reasons why helping other people is beneficial for those who help. First of all it evokes reciprocity. If someone helps someone else, chances are that the helped person will do something to the helper in the future. Helping your own family is ultimately helping yourself because you help your own 'type' with it. In addition, the altruistic group members help the group in general, and indirectly also themselves. The social exchange theory states that, before offering help, someone thinks about the possible consequences, yields are weighed against the costs of the assistance behavior. Social pressure is often more important here than own principles (Darley & Batson, 1973)

Evolutionary principles suggest that some forms of assistive behavior, such as reciprocal support behavior or helping your offspring, are naturally selected because they increase the chance of survival. In humans, however, there are cognitive and social processes that influence such biological drives. The two other motives for helping someone come down to the need for control and reward, and the desire for solidarity with other people (through empathy and altruism).

Providing help to another gives the helper a good feeling because it keeps positive moods intact and suppresses negative moods. In general, the case requires men to show help more quickly than women because men themselves have the idea that they can provide good help.


Many people wonder whether helping behavior is not simply generated by selfishness. For example, the negative-state relief model of helping (Schaller and Cialdini, 1988) states that help behavior comes from egoistic motives. For example, we would help people who are less fortunate, because then we will lose the miserable feeling about that. However, it is important to take into account that negative emotions that focus on the self only make auxiliary behavior less likely. This is because at such a moment the need for help from others can not be properly observed.

Batson et al. (1981) developed the empathy altruism model. Here it was stated that one can have two different emotions if one sees someone suffering. First of all, experiencing personal misery, such as fear and panic, can lead to egotistic help behavior. In addition, people can also get empathetic concerns, feelings of pity and sympathy, which ensure that altruistic help behavior will be shown. The extent to which people empathise is, as seen, a predictor of the support behavior that they will show. In general, we can empathize more quickly with people we feel connected to.


In all cultures, but especially in interdependent cultures, people mainly help people who belong to their own group. Choosing between the group interest or self-interest is also called a social dilemma. There are two main types of social dilemmas:

  • Dilemmas about resource exhaustion. This is a dilemma in which a particular resource is central. Once an individual uses the resource, it will be able to replenish itself, while the resource will be exhausted when the entire group uses it.

  • Public goods dilemmas. These dilemmas are about the availability of public goods, which depends on the individual contribution by the group.

Usually the individual is better off if there is no choice for cooperation, while the group as a whole benefits more from working together, according to Dawes (1980).

People who focus more on cooperation from themselves will cooperate more often in the above dilemmas. In interdependent cultures, people are also more focused on cooperation. In addition, women are often more cooperative than men.

Usually one chooses selfishly, so for the outcome with the highest self-interest. This is reinforced as soon as you have the idea that the others will do the same. A solution for promoting the choice of group interests is the drafting of laws and regulations. At such a time, someone is needed who imposes the rules and a party that monitors compliance. The imposition of rules and laws can ultimately lead to resistance.

There are a number of factors that ensure that people think about group interests more quickly. Identification with the group is one of them. As soon as identification takes place, the higher goal of the group gets a high priority and trust of group members on fellow group members increases. In addition, group standards that promote cooperation are considered important. Cooperation is also promoted by the following factors:

  • The extent to which group standards are accessible.

  • Linking the effort to the higher goal of the group.

  • Good communication within the group.

  • The extent to which outcomes are the same for all group members. If this level is high, this will promote cooperation.

Yet it is important that the difference between identification and altruism is seen. They are two different things, where identification leads to cooperation, while altruism leads to the benefit of certain group members. Altruism does not always have a good effect on the group as a whole.

Processing methods for help and cooperation

Spontaneous assistance behavior arises from superficial processing and was not planned in advance. In the case of lack of time and excitement, people are more likely to act according to their most accessible motives and norms. Priming is a way in which certain constructs become more accessible and thus influence behavior.

Systematic processing is the basis for planned assistance behavior. These are based on extensive reflection and are reinforced by the accessibility of the assistance behavior.

Help behavior has various motives:

  • Career perspectives

  • Solving personal problems

  • Increasing personal development and self-esteem

  • Expressing personal values

  • Cultivating understanding

  • Getting a rating from others

  • Gaining new knowledge and skills.

Auxiliary behavior appears to rely mainly on situational factors rather than on the personality of the helper, according to Piliavin et al. (1981). Other studies, however, claim that there are two personality traits that are important in assistive behavior. These are empathy and caring for the well-being of others and self-motivation (the trust in the correctness of actions)

Prosocial behavior

Help is felt to be especially positive once the aid has the aim of reducing physical suffering or when it creates a positive bond between helper and help-seeking. The helper gives this feeling of pride and the person seeking help feels grateful for the help offered. As soon as the requesting person does not have the possibility to give something back to the helper, help is perceived as negative.

Help can be divided into two aspects. These are the self-supporting aspect, which leads to feelings of gratitude and the self-threatening aspect, which lead to disgusted feelings.

Men tend to see help as a threat to their status, while women experience asking for help much more as an opportunity to build a positive relationship.

There are a number of ways to increase assistance and our chances of receiving help when we need it:

  • Reduce ambiguity: Clarify the need for help.

  • Assigning behavior ("attributing") to internal factors increases the likelihood of repetition of auxiliary behavior.

  • Learning pro-social behavior, for example in schools.

  • Activating pro-social norms by, for example, making people more self-aware which leads to assistance behavior.

  • "Infuse, do not diffuse, responsiblity". In other words: increase responsibility. It is more convenient to direct the request for help directly to one person.

  • Increasing the connection leads to more help behavior.

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