My research project studied whether aggression is a permanent aspect of the human psyche, one that needs to be coped with and controlled through self-discipline (physiology theory); or whether aggression is a flaw in our genetic evolution from our preceding animal ancestors, a trait which we must eliminate from our species by limiting gene pool donors and modern medicine (evolutionary theory). My study also explores the possible origins and neurological aspects of aggression and criminal violence. The process and results of this study were deduced from personal experiences of subjects I surveyed. It obviously required subjects who have experienced aggressive tendencies, and who have, or are now able to analyze these tendencies, as to whether they were preventable or predictable. The implications of this study reflect on our current negotiation of aggression, and suggest possible alternatives, or at least different focal points of the causes of aggressive behavior, and therefore, solutions to suppressing or changing it. On the note of changing aggressive tendencies, this study also allows us to recognize the usefulness of aggression in our current society, and in effect, redefines it as two forms of behavior under the same name, but with different aspects of control.
Based mostly on personal experience, the hypothesis I chose leans largely towards the physiological side of this argument. Again this states that aggressive behavior is an inherent and permanent aspect of the human psyche. I believe excessive cases of aggression are symptoms of improper releases, usually resulting from stress or frustration. I also support that societal issues lead to higher levels of both stress and frustration in the psyche, and therefore often act as stimulation of aggression. There are also certain aspects of the evolutionary argument I support, such as the origin of aggression and that there are certain cases of aggression which must be treated through medicine. Another aspect of the evolutionist argument I agree with, is that agression is often stimulated in younger adults as a result of chemical imbalances. However, I do not believe these chemical imbalances are permanent since most are experienced during puberty. I also think these imbalances can be treated.
I have not had the opportunities to learn the intricate details of the lives of the people I have met. For this reason I am forced to form this hypothesis on my own experience and analysis of personal behavior. I have certainly had aggressive thoughts and feelings at one point or another, I think everyone has, but I find they become increasingly less common and unreasonable as maturity takes over. In addition, I feel a need to back the physiological argument because of its optimism and faith in humanity, which I think is very important for the future. The context of these arguments, starting on the next page, will explain some of these idea more thoroughly.
Arguments: Evolutionary vs. Physiological
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 physiologists 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 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. That is 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 aggressive and violent experiences in our lives.
The implications of this theory forced 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.
(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. These cases are categorized under “abnormal aggression,” however this is because they are all resulting from disorders and injuries. Therefore, I believe in this case, “abnormal aggression” can be considered a medical term rather than one of the evolutionist argument. It is for this reason that I intend to interpret these cases from both perspectives. By doing this each case study provides some support for both arguments. That would make this term a medical term
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.
The physiological argument continues to say 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, this perspective suggests 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 for females and power, 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. In fact, from my survey results, I found many subjects wanted to distinguish between good expressions of aggressiveness, and aggression under more negative connotations referring to criminal violence. 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 scenario, child abuse, and other traumatic living experiences. Examples of this would be the nations ghettos and low income areas with higher crime rates. The reasons are fairly evident since in a capitalist society, low income will naturally cause frustration.
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. (1) The first is to eliminate aggression from the next generation in human evolution. (2) 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, and all life forms, are evil at some base level, it also is more optimistic in the treatment and rehabilitation of violent criminals. There are two resulting steps of this perspective, (1) to create more mental stability within the general populace. This step is usually a result of the second step which is, (2) to create better environments and living situations for all classes. This obviously would lead to a healthier state of mind where aggression can be released in a positive manner.
The first step in the design of this research project was the development of the arguments and theories that surround this topic. I used several authors to do this, including: Gerda Siann, author of Accounting for Aggression; Jan Volavka, author of Neurobiology of Aggression; and Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal. There are also a number of other sources providing statistics and case studies which are listed in the references portion of this paper.
The first arguments I needed to develop for this topic were obviously the evolutionary and physiological perspectives on the causes of aggression. I chose to analyze this topic from these two areas because they relate to current issues and techniques on stunting criminal violence. I found that the current solutions to violence were attempts to either eliminate aggression from the general populace or to encourage control of it through self-discipline. I also chose these two areas, evolution and physiology, because they presented concrete theories on the next step in my research process. The origins of aggressive behavior. Having a well based starting point helped me to define my own theories on aggression, which I could then use to interpret behavior in today’s society.
For the third step in this study, I found case studies exhibiting different aspects of both perspectives. Using my references and some audio-visual resources, I was able to find case studies which show how both arguments are applicable in real world scenarios. Most of the case studies came from two sources, the first, Gerda Siann’s bookm, the second, a video recording of a research program on the brain and violence called, The Violent Mind. I intend to go into my interpretations of these cases in the section discussing my results.
The next step was to develop my own opinions on aggression and how to test them, in the form of questionnaires. I had no way to experiment with the behavior itself, so I decided to test people’s interpretations of aggression from their personal experiences. My study required modest qualifications from the subjects. The subjects had to have had aggressive experiences in the past, both as a participant and an observer. (I assumed most people had this kind of experience.) The subjects also had to have some interpretations of those experiences (again, assumed). The main topics I touched on in this survey were:
n aggression as a permanent or removable aspect of the human psyche
n possible causes of aggressive behavior, from personal experiences
n possible solutions to stemming or controlling aggression
n possible methods of removal or suppression of aggression through medicine
n preferred environments, in terms of an aggressive or aggression-free environment (this question caused an interesting reaction, discussed in the results)
n opinions on the current rehabilitation system, in terms of effectiveness and possible solutions
n women were question about there opinions on aggressiveness during menstruation periods, since one of my cases dealt specifically with this phenomenon as a cause of aggression
n final predictions on this topic, since it is a major species concern in today’s society
Basically, this survey provided some outside perceptions of aggression throughout
the life experiences of its subjects. On another note, I also think this survey presents some insight on its subjects general outlooks on life, in terms of optimistic or pessimistic attitudes. There were also a number of other, more specific, exterior issues interpreted from these surveys, that I am going to discuss in the results section (next).
These cases were taken from Gerda Siann’s book and a video recording of a research study into aggression and brain stimulation. The first case I would like to discuss is called “The Bad Seed.” This involves a child, adopted as a baby, who expressed normal friendly behavior in the presence of adults, while exhibiting immoral behavior in the company of other children. Studies showed her to be not only devoid of morals, but also prone to aggressive and violent behavior. Doctors theorized that this child had developed a sense of appropriate social behavior among adults, but was unable to relate the same social rules to interactions with people her own age. Further studies into this child’s background demonstrated a number of theories including gene transmission and the presence of aggressive traits within gene coding. This child was found to be directly related (maternal) to an individual who was ‘committed’ due to psychotic behavior. The evolutionist perspective might use this case as an example of flawed genes within the generations of a family. The physiological argument might see this aggressive behavior as present naturally, in this child and in all people, but released unnaturally due to some disorder, possibly trait transmission, as mentioned above. In addition, the fact that this girl was able to adapt her behavior in the presence of adults suggests some form of control.
The second case I studied deals with natural chemical imbalances. Dawn Stanton is a diabetic who is experiences what can be defined as psychotic episodes when she becomes hypoglycemic. These episodes are better defined as a freedom from morals and from societal boundaries of right and wrong. Examples of this behavior are, in one instance while in the possession of a kitchen knife, having extreme desires to stab things. On another occasion, Mrs. Stanton was found naked in the woods during what she refers to as a freedom from societal limitations and morals. Both of these occasions occurred shortly after accidentally neglected dosages (no less than an hour). The evolutionary argument might state that this is again a case of a flawed gene; and since it is stimulated by a disorder, which also represents a genetic flaw, perhaps the two are related in their existence and/or their development. The physiological perspective would probably state that this disorder opened a doorway to a more instinctual side of the personality, one which has always been present, just subdued.
The next case deals with the Limbic System and unnatural chemical imbalances, or blood poisoning. David Garabedian was convicted and sentenced for the murder of Eileen Muldoon in cold blood. The details of this event are irrelevant, but the circumstances which brought this man to commit this crime are interesting. At the time, some time in the 80’s, Mr. Garabedian worked for a lawn care company which was doing work for Mrs. Muldoon. He claims that while mixing the chemicals he was poisoned by inhaling the fumes and possibly coming into physical contact with a form of insecticide. During this period, brain poisoning was a rather unknown topic, but this case led scientists to consider household and industrial chemicals as possible influences of abnormal behavior. Later tests found that the insecticide being used by Mr. Garabedian contained organo phosphates, a chemical used in nerve gas. The effect on the human body takes place in the hypothalmus, part of the Limbic System. Scientists believe this chemical inhibited an enzyme called asatele colene, a chemical naturally produced by the human body which limits and coordinates aggressive behavior. It is important to note that the only protection deemed necessary for handling this chemical was rubber gloves. The evolutionary perspective might say that this was not only a case of flawed genes, but also of chemical influence which stimulated and intensified aggressive behavior. The physiological argument would probably come to similar conclusions as the evolutionist argument without such negative connotations on the initial presence of aggressive traits. All of the theories of scientists and doctors related in this case study were presented shortly after the trial, and therefore were not really tested, and as a result, were not accepted by the courts as enough evidence to free Garabedian.
The next case study I would like to interpret, deals with the Limbic System and a natural chemical imbalance within women, specifically. The individual in this case, committed both violent and damaging crimes on a regular basis. While incarcerated, personality changes were witnessed on the same intervals as the crimes she had committed. After further studies by doctors and scientists, she was found to express higher levels of aggression during
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