My poster and research topic explores the origins and neurological aspects of aggression and criminal violence. It also discusses experimental studies and techniques into the control of aggression. I will be focusing on a comparison of evolutionary and physiological perspectives of this topic. Aggression can be described, from both standpoints, as instinctual. However, while evolutionist might believe it to be, an instinct acquired by our primate ancestors, through the constant threat of nature; many sociobiologists would believe aggression to be instinctual by way of our genes. The reason I consider both developments, "instinct", is because the end results are the same. That being, aggressive tendencies which are ingrained into the psyche, that act and react as an instincts. This idea can be further explained through a quote by Gerda Siann which states, "Both sociobiologists and social scientists would agree that human behavior rests on an interaction of environmental and genetic variables." This is not, however, to be confused with interactions between genetic variables and environment. This idea provides a foundation for the origins of aggression, as well as instinct, and can be maintained from both perspectives.
From an evolutionary perspective, aggression represents a failing in evolution. By this I mean, it was instinctual in our animal ancestors, but only because it was necessary to survive the threats of nature. Because this perspective claims that humans adopted these traits from animal ancestors, naturally aggression appeared to be instinctual in humans. However, it seemed to either be less pronounced, or incorporated with other human thought patterns, due to our higher reasoning and brain capacities. In addition, with the advancement of technology, aggression was not as necessary, because the effects of nature's dangers on curbing society steadily decreased. All this is possible due to one truth, held by both spheres, which is that humans are adaptive species. Continuing further through the advancement of technology, aggressive tendencies and survival techniques are further dulled, or suppressed, as a result of another important idea held by evolutionists. This idea is that, through evolution, aggression should be, or have been, replaced with the development of morals, reason, and logic, or problem solving skills. This idea is stressed because it defines aggression as a disorder in human development, rather than just a poor sense of self control, as the physiological argument might indicate. Robert Wright describes a similar process through Darwinian theory which says that morals and the conscience preceded the fall of uncontrolled aggressive responses. Specifically, he refers to the development of sympathy and guilt concepts.
At this point, evolutionists present the theory that aggressive events are evidence of flaws in evolution. To expand on this, evolutionists would believe that violent criminals are degenerates, because their aggressive traits were not properly subdued, at the genetic level, during the development of morals, sympathy, guilt, and other such substitute responses. In further support of this idea, because human evolution depended heavily on a the development of a group mentality, in order to survive, we were forced to exist together as a society. It only makes sense that we should be able to do this peacefully, otherwise we would not be productive, and therefore, unsuccessful as a species. None of us should feel aggressive needs, and if you think about it, most of feel better without aggression and violence.
The implications of this theory force evolutionists to refocus their attention into the causes of "abnormal aggression" and "intolerable violence," terms taken, again, from Gerda Siann. "Abnormal aggression" can be described as unusual aggression stimulation, caused or at least originating from influences other than society. In this I believe they are referring to instances of blood poisoning, or in-born chemical imbalances. It is the evolutionist's belief that these circumstances can sometimes cause a person to revert to a primitive mentality which relies more heavily on aggression and defense. In addition, these are typically cases which scientists believe can be overcome in this day and age through modern medicine, and some of the case studies I will be discussing will show why this is so. "Intolerable violence" is defined as abnormal releases of suppressed aggression. This term follows the evolutionist's theory on violence more closely. It can be described as releases of extreme rage, non-personally controlled. In other words, criminal violence represents a genetically based aggression suppression disorder, or a flaw in genetic evolution.
I looked at five cases studying "abnormal aggression" due to chemical imbalance and abnormal stimulation. (1) The Bad Seed represents the idea of a person born devoid of morality and innocence, as a result of genetic trait transmission between family members. Research into gene transmission is being done by studying, among other things, twins. In theory, twins should be close enough, genetically, to indicate the transmission of traits. (2) The Limbic System is a part of the brain to which aggressive behavior has been traced. It specifically deals with the amygdala and hypothalamus and various ways they respond to input. (3) A number of criminals claimed they had received head injuries, which knocked them unconscious, at some point in their lives. This is believed to have had some affects on their behavior. (4) Aggressive stimulation has also been related to chemical imbalances. For example, forms of blood poisoning, as well as cases of hypoglycemia have been shown to cause violent outbreaks in some people. There is also one case, in particular, which deals with a diabetic who becomes violent once hypoglycemic. This case proved to be especially important, because it demonstrated that modern medicine could correct the disorder, blocking the uncontrolled aggression through brain surgery. (5) sexual hormonal disorders relating to such naturally produced chemicals as, androgen, estrogen, gestrone, and progestrone, have also been related as a cause of violence, according to scientists and evolutionists. In addition, aggression has been linked to periods of menstruation in women, and adolescent hormonal disorders in children and young adults. The importance of this is obvious since teens represent one quarter of the nations violent crimes.
The physiological perspective on this argument is that aggression has always been present, and that the suppression of this aggression is an ongoing struggle for all of humanity to cope with. Not only is aggression instinctual, but is an inherent trait stemming from self-interest and a "will to survive." The physiological sphere states that aggression is present in all species, because of three main purposes which it satisfies. Aggressive behavior serves to: (1) even the distribution of animals in a specific area, (2) select for breeding, (3) select for protection of the mates and the young. These purposes are naturally broadened for humans, due to higher brain functions and, therefore, the concept of a wider range of values, as well as a hierarchical ranking of those values, is possible.
There are two areas I would like to discuss which support this viewpoint. The first, is a natural physiological defense system, in the form of automatic chemical reactions within the body. These responsive chemicals are adrenaline, which is stimulated by stress and anxiety, and nor-adrenaline, which is more directly involved in aggressive responses. The second form of evidence in support of physiological aggression, is the concept of inequality, or more specifically the perception of inequality. A perception of inequality would most likely have been initiated during the development of group mentality, as well as various forms of human individualism, stemming from even further back in human evolution. The range of inequalities I am referring to are between humans and other species; between humans and other humans; and obviously between different groups, or classifications, of humans. These perceptions, which are a natural development of Human Nature, inevitably lead to power struggles, and as a result, aggression.
Physiologists on this topic believe that as technology advanced, aggression was suppressed, and to a certain extent, controlled by the development of morals and reason. Aggression becomes more of a secondary response, within the human psyche, to possible dangers. The ideas I have mentioned so far, seem to support the theory that the suppression of aggression is an ongoing struggle for every man. Plus, sociobiologists suggest that otherwise, aggression would not be present in society today.
The physiological perspective describes aggression as spontaneous; a response to general societal frustrations which needs to be released. Criminal violence and neurosis are a result of improper releases of aggression. This release is done through rituals, performed by both humans and animals. Examples of animal rituals would be hunting, various kinds of competition and conquest, and of course mating. Jane Goodall refers to male chimpanzees who "patrol" their territory for violators of their law or rule. This activity is another example of animalistic rituals which release aggression. Human rituals usually take the form of competition and challenges, hopefully good-spirited, as well as mating, and other forms of personal expression. Some supporters of this theory say that, in addition to venting aggression, rituals also help us to better recognize and control our aggressive tendencies. Physiologists also recognize abnormal cases of aggression to be a result of societal development flaws, as well as improper releases. These flaws would take the form of personal environmental issues, such as, the broken Home Page scenario, child abuse, and other traumatic living experiences.
In conclusion, the evolutionist's claim aggression has no appropriate place in our society. We have the ability to look past and logically solve most of our daily problems, so there simply is no need. There are only two steps that remain. The first, is to eliminate aggression from the next generation in human evolution. The second, is to learn to treat cases of abnormal aggression. Physiologist's believe there is a violent side to all forms of life. It is just a matter of self-control, discipline, and healthy mental development which prevents it from surfacing at the wrong times. While this theory implies humans, as well as all life forms, are evil at some base level, it also is more optimistic in the treatment and rehabilitation of violent criminals.
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