Aggression, as the term is applied to humans, occurs as an emotional reaction to dissatisfactions and stress resulting in behaviors that society considers antagonistic and destructive. The term as used in common parlance has broad meanings and applications. In psychological parlance, however, aggression generally refers to an unreasonable hostility directed against situations with which people must cope or think they must cope. On a simple and relatively harmless level, people may demonstrate momentary aggressive behavior if they experience common frustrations such as missing a bus, perhaps reacting momentarily by stamping a foot on the ground or swearing. The moment passes, and no one is hurt by this sort of aggression, which most people demonstrate with fair frequency as they deal with frustration in their daily lives.
People with tattered self-images may direct their aggression toward themselves, possibly in the form of expressing or thinking disparaging things about themselves or, in extreme cases, harming themselves physically, even to the point of suicide. Such internalized forms of aggression may remain pent up for years in people who bear their frustrations silently. Such frustrations may eventually erupt into dangerous behavior directed at others, leading to assaults, verbal or physical abuse, and, in the most extreme cases, to massacres. Such was the case when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P.
Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, as an act of civil protest, killing 167 people, none of whom he knew.
Infants and young children make their needs known and have them met by crying or screaming, which usually brings them attention from whoever is caring for them. Older children, basing their actions on these early behaviors, may attempt to have their needs met by having tantrums, or uncontrolled fits of rage, in an effort to achieve their ends. In some instances, adults who are frustrated, through regression to the behaviors of infancy or early childhood, have tantrums that, while disconcerting, frequently fail to succeed in anything more than emphasizing their social immaturity. Socialization demands that people learn how to control their overt expressions of rage and hostility.
Hugh Wagner, a behavioral psychologist concerned with the biology of aggression, has identified three types: offensive aggression, defensive aggression, and predatory aggression. Offensive aggression occurs when the aggressor initiates aggressive behavior against one or more nonaggressors. The response to offensive aggression is likely to be defensive aggression that generally takes the form of self-defense.
Predatory aggression differs from offensive or defensive aggression, although it is basically a form of offensive aggression. It is characterized by, for example, such phenomena as the lurking of predatory animals that make themselves as inconspicuous as possible until their prey is within striking distance. They then pounce on the prey with the intention of killing it as quickly as they can so that they can eat it. Among humans, hunters are examples of predatory aggressors, although not all modern hunters consume their prey.
Although aggressive acts are usually triggered by environmental factors, laboratory research suggests that aggression has biological roots. Various experiments point to the fact that the three basic types of aggression are controlled by different mechanisms in the midbrain. It has been demonstrated in laboratory animals that offensive aggression has intimate connections to neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain. When lesions occur in this section of the brain, offensive aggression decreases markedly or disappears altogether, although defensive and predatory aggression are not affected.
Conversely, when parts of the anterior hypothalamus are stimulated, offensive behavior increases, and attack may ensue. The brain appears in these experiments to be programmed in such a way that defensive aggression is controlled by the periaqueductal gray matter (PAG) found in the midbrain. So specialized are the neural activities of the midbrain that defensive aggression involving perceived threats emanates from a different part of the brain than defensive aggression that involves an actual attack. Acid-based amino
DSM-IV-TR Criteria for Intermittent Explosive Disorder
(DSM code 312.34)
Several discrete episodes of failure to resist aggressive impulses resulting in serious assaultive acts or destruction of property
Degree of aggressiveness expressed during episodes grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressors
Aggressive episodes not better accounted for by another mental disorder and not due to direct physiological effects of a substance or general medical condition neurons from the medial hypothalamus are known to trigger defensive aggression.
Alcoholic intake often intensifies aggressive behavior because alcohol reduces the inhibitions that the cerebral cortex controls while stimulating the neural pathways between the medial hypothalamus and the PAG. Although alcohol does not increase aggressive behavior in all humans, many people react aggressively when they consume alcoholic beverages.
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