<<

. 77
( 115 .)



>>

Research suggests that they do (Malamuth & Check, 1981, 1985). In these studies,
viewing sexually explicit, violent ¬lms increased male (but not female) participantsʼ
acceptance of violence against women. Such portrayals also tended to reinforce rape
myths. Media portrayals of a woman enjoying sexual violence had their strongest impact
on males who were already predisposed to violence against women (Malamuth & Check,
1985). Men who are likely to commit rape also have beliefs that support the rape myth,
such as a belief that rape is justi¬ed and the perception that the victim enjoyed the rape
(Linz, Penrod, & Donnerstein, 1987; Malamuth & Check, 1981).
Malamuth and Check, for example, had some participants watch ¬lms widely dis-
tributed in mainstream movie theaters that depicted sexual violence against women
(e.g., The Getaway). In these ¬lms, the sexual violence was portrayed as justi¬ed and
having positive consequences. Other participants watched ¬lms with no sexual violence
(e.g., Hooper). After viewing the ¬lms, participants (both male and female) completed
measures of rape-myth acceptance and acceptance of interpersonal violence. The results
showed that for male participants, exposure to the ¬lms with sexual violence against
women increased acceptance of the rape myth and acceptance of interpersonal violence
against women. Female participants showed no such increase in acceptance of the rape
myth or in violence against women. In fact, there was a slight trend in the opposite
direction for female participants.
These “softer” portrayals of sexual violence with unrealistic outcomes in ¬lms and
on television (e.g., the raped woman marrying her rapist) may have a more pernicious
effect than hard-core pornography. Because they are widely available, many individu-
als see these materials and may be affected by them. The appetite for such ¬lms has not
subsided since Malamuth and Checkʼs 1981 experiment, and ¬lms depicting violence
against women are still made and widely distributed.
Finally, one need not view sexually explicit or violent materials in order for oneʼs
attitudes toward women and sexual violence to be altered. McKay and Covell (1997)
reported that male students who looked at magazine advertisements with sexual images
Social Psychology
390

(compared to those who saw more “progressive” images) expressed attitudes that showed
greater acceptance of interpersonal violence and the rape myth. They were also more likely
to express adversarial sexual attitudes and less acceptance of the womenʼs movement.

Men Prone to Sexual Aggression: Psychological Characteristics
We have seen that male college students are aroused by depictions of rape and can be
instigated to aggression against women through exposure to sexually explicit, violent
materials. Does this mean that all, or at least most, males have a great potential for sexual
aggression, given the appropriate circumstances? No, apparently not. Psychological
characteristics play a part in a manʼs inclination to express sexual aggression against
women (Malamuth, 1986).
In one study, six variables were investigated to see how they related to self-reported
sexual aggression. The six predictor variables were:
1. Dominance as a motive for sexual behavior
2. Hostility toward women
3. Accepting attitudes toward sexual aggression
4. Antisocial characteristics or psychoticism
5. Sexual experience
6. Physiological arousal to depictions of rape
Participantsʼ sexual aggression was assessed by a test that measured whether pressure,
coercion, force, and so on were used in sexual relationships.
Positive correlations were found between ¬ve of the six predictor variables and sexual
aggression directed against women. Psychoticism was the only variable that did not cor-
relate signi¬cantly with aggression. However, the presence of any one predictor alone was
not likely to result in sexual aggression. Instead, the predictor variables tended to interact
to in¬‚uence sexual aggression. For example, arousal to depictions of rape is not likely to
translate into sexual aggression unless other variables are present. So, just because a man
is aroused by depictions of rape, he will not necessarily be sexually violent with women.
In other words, several variables interact to predispose a man toward sexual aggression.
Lackie and de Man (1997) investigated the relationship between several variables,
including sex-role attitudes, physical aggression, hostility toward women, alcohol use,
and fraternity af¬liation, and sexual aggression. Their ¬ndings showed that sexually
aggressive males tended to be physically aggressive in general. Furthermore, they
found that stereotyped sex-role beliefs, acceptance of interpersonal violence, masculin-
ity, and fraternity membership were positively related to self-reported sexual aggres-
sion. They also found that the most important predictors of sexual aggression were the
use of physical aggression, stereotyped sex-role beliefs, and fraternity membership. In
another study, Carr and VanDeusen (2004) found a similar pattern of results. Carr and
VanDeusen found that four variables signi¬cantly related to sexual violence. These
were alcohol use, exposure to pornography, sexual conservatism, and acceptance of
interpersonal violence. Those prone to sexual violence used alcohol and pornography
to a greater extent, were more sexually conservative, and were more accepting of inter-
personal violence than those less prone to sexual violence.
So, whether an individual will be sexually aggressive is mediated by other factors.
For example, Dean and Malamuth (1997) found that males who are at risk for sexual
violence against women were most likely to behave in a sexually aggressive way if they
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 391

were also self-centered. A high-risk male who is not self-centered but rather is sensitive
to the needs of others is not likely to behave in a sexually aggressive way. However,
regardless of whether a high-risk male is self-centered, he is likely to fantasize about
sexual violence (Dean & Malamuth, 1997). Additionally, feelings of empathy also appear
to mediate sexual aggression. Malamuth, Heavey, and Linz found that males who are
high in empathy are less likely to show arousal to scenes of sexual violence than males
who are low in empathy (cited in Dean & Malamuth, 1997).
What do we know, then, about the effects of exposure to sexual violence on aggres-
sion? The research suggests the following conclusions:
1. Exposure to mild forms of nonviolent erotica tends to decrease sexual aggression
against women.
2. Exposure to explicit or sexually violent erotica tends to increase sexual
aggression against women but not against men.
3. Individuals who are angry are more likely to be more aggressive after viewing
sexually explicit or violent materials than are individuals who are not angry.
4. Male college students are aroused by depictions of rape. However, men who
show a greater predisposition to rape are more aroused, especially if the woman
is portrayed as being aroused.
5. Exposure to media portrayals of sexual aggression against women increases
acceptance of such acts and contributes to the rape myth. Thus, sexually explicit,
violent materials contribute to a social climate that tolerates rape.
6. No single psychological characteristic predisposes a man to sexual aggression.
Instead, several characteristics interact to increase the likelihood that a man will
be sexually aggressive toward women.



Reducing Aggression
We have seen that interpersonal aggression comes in many different forms, including
murder, rioting, and sexual violence. We also have seen that many different factors can
contribute to aggression, including innate biological impulses, situational factors such
as frustration, situational cues such as the presence of weapons, and aggressive scripts
internalized through the process of socialization. We turn now to a more practical ques-
tion: What can be done to reduce aggression? Although aggression can be addressed
on a societal level, such as through laws regulating violent television programming
and pornography, the best approach is to undermine aggression in childhood, before it
becomes a life script.

Reducing Aggression in the Family
According to the social-interactional model described earlier in this chapter, antisocial
behavior begins early in life and results from poor parenting. The time to target aggres-
sion, then, is during early childhood, when the socialization process is just under way.
Teachers, health workers, and police need to look for signs of abuse and neglect and
intervene as soon as possible (Widom, 1992). Waiting until an aggressive child is older
is not the best course of action (Patterson et al., 1989). Intervention attempts with ado-
lescents produce only temporary reductions in aggression, at best.
Social Psychology
392

One way to counter the development of aggression is to give parents guidance with
their parenting. Parents who show tendencies toward inept parenting can be identi¬ed,
perhaps through child-welfare agencies or schools, and offered training programs in
productive parenting skills. Such training programs have been shown to be effective in
reducing noncompliant and aggressive behavior in children (Forehand & Long, 1991).
Children whose parents received training in productive parenting skills were also less
likely to show aggressive behavior as adolescents.
What types of parenting techniques are most effective in minimizing aggression?
Parents should avoid techniques that provide children with aggressive role models.
Recommended techniques include positive reinforcement of desired behaviors and
time-outs (separating a child from activities for a time) for undesired behaviors. Also,
parenting that involves inductive techniques, or giving age-relevant explanations for
discipline, is related to lowered levels of juvenile crime (Shaw & Scott, 1991). Parents
can also encourage prosocial behaviors that involve helping, cooperating, and sharing.
It is a simple fact that prosocial behavior is incompatible with aggression. If a child
learns to be empathic and altruistic in his or her social interactions, aggression is less
likely to occur. To support the development of prosocial behaviors, parents can take
four speci¬c steps (Bee, 1992, pp. 331“443):
1. Set clear rules and explain to children why certain behaviors are unacceptable. For
example, tell a child that if he or she hits another child, that other child will
be hurt.
2. Provide children with age-appropriate opportunities to help others, such as
setting the table, cooking dinner, and teaching younger siblings.
3. Attribute prosocial behavior to the childʼs internal characteristics; for example,
tell the child how helpful he or she is.
4. Provide children with prosocial role models who demonstrate caring, empathy,
helping, and other positive traits.

Reducing Aggression with Cognitive Intervention and Therapy
Reducing aggression through better parenting is a long-term, global solution to the
problem. Another more direct approach to aggression in speci¬c individuals makes
use of cognitive intervention. We have seen that children who are exposed to violence
develop aggressive scripts. These scripts increase the likelihood that a child will inter-
pret social situations in an aggressive way. Dodge (1986) suggested that aggression
is mediated by the way we process information about our social world. According to
social information- this social information-processing view of aggression, there are ¬ve important steps
processing view of involved in instigating aggression (as well as other forms of social interaction). These
aggression A view stating are (as cited in Kendall, Ronan, & Epps, 1991):
that how a person processes
social information mediates 1. We perceive and decode cues from our social environment.
aggression.
2. We develop expectations of othersʼ behavior based on our attribution of intent.
3. We look for possible responses.
4. We decide which response is most appropriate.
5. We carry out the chosen response.
Chapter 10 Interpersonal Aggression 393

Individuals with aggressive tendencies see their own feelings re¬‚ected in the world.
They are likely to interpret and make attributions about the behaviors of others that
center on aggressive intent. This leads them to respond aggressively to the perceived
threat. Generally, aggressive individuals interpret the world as a hostile place, choose
aggression as a desired way to solve con¬‚ict, and enact those aggressive behaviors to
solve problems (Kendall et al., 1991).
Programs to assess and treat aggressive children have been developed using cog-
nitive intervention techniques. Some programs use behavior management strategies
(teaching individuals to effectively manage their social behavior) to establish and
enforce rules in a nonconfrontational way (Kendall et al., 1991). Aggressive children
(and adults) can be exposed to positive role models and taught to consider nonaggres-
sive solutions to problems.
Other programs focus more speci¬cally on teaching aggressive individuals new
information-processing and social skills that they can use to solve interpersonal problems
(Pepler, King, & Byrd, 1991; Sukhodolsky, Golub, Stone, & Orban, 2005). Individuals
are taught to listen to what others say and, more important, think about what they are
saying. They are also taught how to correctly interpret othersʼ behaviors, thoughts,
and feelings, and how to select nonaggressive behaviors to solve interpersonal prob-
lems. These skills are practiced in role-playing sessions where various scenarios that
could lead to aggression are acted out and analyzed. In essence, the aggressive child
(or adult) is taught to reinterpret social situations in a less-threatening, less-hostile
way. Cognitively-based interventions may also be effective with high-risk individuals.
LeSure-Lester (2002) contrasted a cognitive intervention program that included anger
recognition, self-talk, and alternatives to aggression with a more traditional interven-
tion with a sample of abused African American adolescents. LeSure-Lester found that
the cognitive intervention resulted in greater reductions in aggressive behavior than the
more traditional intervention.
As you can see, cognitively based therapy techniques have produced some encour-
aging results. It appears that they can be effective in changing an individualʼs percep-
tions of social events and in reducing aggression. However, the jury is still out on these
programs. It may be best to view them as just one technique among many to help reduce
aggression.
Other therapeutic techniques might also be effective in reducing aggression. In
one study conducted in Israel, group-based “bibliotherapy” involving both the mother
and child was most successful in reducing childrenʼs aggression (Schectman & Birani-
Nasaraladen, 2006). Among schoolchildren, using a system that reinforced nonaggres-
sive behavior on the playground (a straight behavioral intervention) also is effective in
reducing aggression (Roderick, Pitchford, & Miller, 1997).



The Beltway Sniper Case Revisited
The fate that befell the victims of the Beltway Snipers was the result of naked aggression
directed against them. We would classify the type of aggression displayed by the Beltway
Snipers as instrumental aggression. The fact that Muhammad and Malvo planned to
extort money and/or use the random victims to set up a ¬nal murder of Muhammadʼs
ex-wife suggests that they were using the killings as a means to an end.
Social Psychology
394

Although it would be dif¬cult to pinpoint an exact cause for the Beltway Snipersʼ
shooting spree, it is fairly clear that there were no physiological causes for the aggres-
sion (e.g., no damage to the hypothalamus). The best explanations for the shooting
spree might lie in the frustration-aggression and social learning perspectives. It seems
evident that Muhammad was deeply frustrated and angry over the custody dispute with
his ex-wife. We have seen how frustration, mediated by anger, can provoke aggres-
sive behavior. Further, Muhammad learned skills in the military that lent themselves
to the sniper-type method he used to kill his victims. Lee Malvoʼs motives are more
dif¬cult to determine. Was there something in his childhood that could explain his
behavior? Malvo came from a poor, single-parent family. He was raised by his mother
(who was not married to Malvoʼs father). Malvoʼs father left the scene when Lee was
an infant and Lee rarely saw his father. Recall from the social-interactional model of
aggression how family experiences can shape a personʼs tendencies toward aggressive
behavior. It may well be that Lee Malvoʼs childhood experiences shaped his behavior
later in his life.



Chapter Review
1. How do social psychologists de¬ne aggression?
For social psychologists, the term aggression carries a very speci¬c meaning,
which differs from a laypersonʼs de¬nition. For social psychologists, aggression
is any behavior intended to in¬‚ict harm (whether psychological or physical) on
another organism or object. Key to this de¬nition are the notions of intent and
the fact that harm need not be limited to physical harm but can also include
psychological harm.
2. What are the different types of aggression?
Social psychologists distinguish different types of aggression, including hostile
aggression (aggression stemming from emotions such as anger or hatred) and
instrumental aggression (aggression used to achieve a goal). Direct aggression
refers to overt forms of aggression such as physical aggression and verbal
aggression. Indirect aggression is aggression that is social in nature. Another
type of aggression called relational aggression (using social ostracism,
rejection, and direct confrontation) has elements of both direct and indirect
aggression. Symbolic aggression involves doing things that block another
personʼs goals. Sanctioned aggression is aggression that society approves,
such as a soldier killing in war or a police of¬cer shooting a suspect in the line
of duty.
3. What are the gender differences in aggression?
Research has established that there are, in fact, differences in aggression
between males and females. One of the most reliable differences between
males and females is the maleʼs greater predisposition toward direct, physical
aggression, most evident among children. However, the role of gender in the
use of indirect, relational aggression is still an open question. Males tend to
favor physical aggression as a way to settle a dispute and are more likely than

<<

. 77
( 115 .)



>>