John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Author of Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships UNC Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Hi, welcome back.
We are talking about different types of aggression.
And before we talked about the different forms of aggression.
So, in other words, what does aggression look like?
Now, we're going to talk about the functions of aggression.
So, why is it that someone engages in aggressive behavior?
This is one of the topics that was studied in psychology,
one of the very first topics, even at the turn of the prior century in the 1900s.
This was the question that people were starting to ask.
Why are people aggressive, and what type of function does it serve for them?
Research from all the way back then suggested that there were at least two
types of aggression.
Those types of aggression engaged in for
reactive purposes and those that were proactive.
So let's talk about each one.
Reactive aggression comes from the frustration-aggression hypothesis,
any of us that have gotten really frustrated about something and
kicked a garbage can and went flying across them room and it made us
feel a little bit better for a second we know what reactive aggression is.
It comes from the experience of frustration.
We might be frustrated because of something that's happening within us.
We might be experiencing negative emotions.
There might be something that we're trying to do, and we just can't do it.
Usually, it's frustration that comes from not being able to meet a goal.
But sometimes, this could be frustration that comes externally.
Someone is not letting us do what we want to do.
For kids someone is not giving them the toy that they want.
When that happens and kids get mad or
adults feel frustrated, they do something aggressive.
And that idea is sometimes referred to as impulsive or
uncontrolled hot blooded type of aggression.
So here's what it looks like.
There may be a way in which we ourselves are frustrated from an internal conflict,
or peers have provoked us.
We have internal feelings of anger and
frustration that leads us to become aggressive.
And I have to say, if you're a young kid and someone takes your toy and
you punch them in the face, you probably get your toy back.
So the reason why reactive aggression is reinforced is because it comes with
a short-term reward.
The problem is, that's not okay to do.
And it's not okay to yell at somebody as an adult, either.
So when we experience that frustration, react aggressively, it might get us
what we want in the short-term, but it tends to really hurt us in the long-term.
And it's related to a decrease in our status.
Now let's contrast that with proactive aggression.
Proactive aggression is a much more sneaky calculated way of trying to get a goal.
So, this was actually something studied originally in the animal world,
where people realized that when studying different species there were those
species that wanted to have the first access to food or
mating partner or want to be dominant within their herd or their group.
And they would do this by being aggressive in very calculated, thoughtful ways.
They could either do that in an object oriented fashion by being aggressive
using a tool or trying to get some sort of a banana, or
a piece of fruit, or a first opportunity to eat some prey.
Or it might be more person oriented, simply to demonstrate that they're higher
on the hierarchy, and that's what we refer to as bullying.
It's a way of simply being aggressive to show that you are more dominant than
somebody else on that hierarchy, and then the next time that something becomes
available, you're further up in the line, and being able to access that object and
this is cold blooded aggression, again is sneaky and calculative.
What we know is that in humans we're usually not having to have
this type of aggressive warfare for food or mating partners but
we do try and have different access to status.
For different other things in our life.
For wealth, for power, for influence,
and because of those human goals, we see proactive aggression happening a lot.
Proactive aggression is specifically designed to get you more status.
And it works.
It works on the playground and it works in adulthood as well.
So, when people act in an aggressive way proactively,
it does lead them to have higher status.
It doesn't mean it makes them more popular, more likeable that is, but
it does work.
So, it's reinforced through social learning theory.
So again, this is where someone might be interested in getting an object, or
in getting some sort of status they think carefully about ways to do that.
They reacting in aggressive ways and it's reinforced through more status.
How is all of this related to popularity.
Well, remember we talked about two different forms of popularity.
One that we refer to as sociometric status, well, you might remember,
we took the number of nominations someone got for liked most, and
we subtracted from the number of nominations they got for liked least.
We call that social preference.
So, that's a way of understanding how much someone is well-liked more than they
Social preference is likeability.
The other way that we look at popularity, the way that it starts becoming relevant
in adolescence we called social reputation.
That was where we took the number of nominations you got for
being most popular and we subtracted from it the number of nominations you got for
being least popular, and that is a measure of your reputation of being popular or
your reputation of dominance or status and that we'll call social reputation.
Well, research has found that things are related
to the two different kinds of popularity in two different ways.
So remember we talked about correlations,
the higher the absolute value of the number, the stronger the association.
Athletic ability gets you high likeability, social preference.
But it also gets you, perhaps even more so, it gets you high status and dominance.
So the athletic kids, remember the kids that were the captains of the football
team or the soccer team, they're the ones that are high in dominance.
They're also somewhat more likeable.
Being high in academic ability, well this really varies depending on what age you
are as we'll talk about in future videos.
But that seems to be, if anything,
related to likeability much more than dominance and status.
Prosocial behavior will make you very well liked, but
less so, it will make you high in social reputation or dominance.
Social withdrawal makes you less liked, but even more dramatically,
it makes you unpopular on a not high in dominance or status.
But perhaps most interestingly look at the relationship here with aggression.
Aggressive behaviour as we've talked about is related to being rejected,
it makes you disliked but it is positively associated with dominance or status.
Aggressive behavior actually gives you higher popularity
when it's measured by social reputation.
And when we look at that in our own research lab, along with Tone Sillison,
we published a paper looking at the ways in which the different levels of
popularity here, so this is social reputation, might be related to
aggression, understood by how it is, why it is that people were aggressive.
What you can see is that there's a curve a linear association here.
The people that are high in aggression are the ones who are low in popularity.
Which you can see towards the left of the slide.
But also those that are really high in popularity,
which you can see towards the right.
the unpopular aggressive kids are the ones who are engaging in reactive aggression.
The really popular aggressive kids are the ones who are engaging in
This might have a lot to do with the fact that, at least in our culture,
here in North America, we see that aggression is something that
in dominance and in status is something that is highly valued.
Interestingly, Jack Wright and his colleagues did a study where they looked
at a camp for kids experiencing difficulties.
Many of them had conic disorder,
oppositional defiance disorder or ADHD, in other words,
they were exhibiting disruptive behavior and all of them were aggressive.
Aggression was actually something that was really valued there.
What they found was that in a culture of kids where aggression was normative,
aggression didn't lead you to be disliked.
In fact, shyness is what really led to being disliked the most.
Because that was the thing that was most different from the norm in this big,
Thinking about this a little bit more, we had the opportunity in collaboration with
John Abella to look at the ways that these ideas might work
differently across cultures that value individualism versus collectivism.
So, we had the opportunity to study social reputation and factors that might
correlate with it in both America and also in two samples in China.
The two samples in China looked very much the same.
So, what I'm going to show you here are the correlations with dominance and
status in America and compared to both Chinese samples combined.
What you can see here is that prosocial behavior was something that may be popular
in America maybe even a little bit more so in China.
In a society that values collectivism and working together in harmony as a group.
Prosocial behavior is what you need to be popular there.
Sad affect was punished here in America
by being related to really low levels of dominance.
But sad affect was not something that was punished as severely in China.
Maybe because sad affect usually doesn't disrupt the group, so
it's not something that's as problematic.
Similarly anxious behavior is really punished here in the United States but
not so much in China at all.
But most interestingly what we see is that aggressive behavior was related to really
high levels of social reputation and popularity in America.
Aggression is related to high levels of dominance.
But in China, just the opposite.
The exact same behaviors,
aggressive behavior, those are related to low levels of status.
So we can see, really dramatically,
that there's something about aggression that seems to be really important for
understanding likeability and also popularity.
But maybe the reason why is because it depends on
what type of social norm their is for aggression.
Is it something that's valued,
because dominance means being better than everyone else?
Trying to be superior to those in the group, getting that way,
even if it means being aggressive.
Maybe that's something we value here in America.
Or is it something that is seen as disrupting the flow of the group?
It makes it harder for the collective to reach its overall goal?
And then that would be something that we would see more likely to be
punished in China.
So in summary, what we've seen in these last few clips,
is that there are different kinds of aggression.
They vary in form and in function.
And all of those types of aggression lead you to be less likeable.
We see that across all different cultures and across all different ages.
But the types of aggression that you engage in might be related to status in
different ways and it usually depends predominantly on whether
you're engaging in aggression for proactive reasons or for reactive reasons.