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Aggression as a Challenge

Theory and research- Current Problems

Edited By Hanna Liberska and Marzanna Farnicka

We live in a world of phenomena created by the human mind and by human experience, namely conflict, aggression, aggressiveness and violence. These phenomena are viewed as constructs of the mind, types of behaviour, particular experiences and emotional states, specific social interactions or even historical and political categories such as social movements, wars, angry social protests etc. The study explores the notions of aggression and violence and from an individual and a social perspective analyses their determinants in various environments in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. It is an attempt to join the global discussion on reaction conditions and key points that are connected with the risk of pathologization of the personality and its behaviour.
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Assuming the Roles of Aggressor and Victim by Lower Secondary School Youth. Research Report

← 66 | 67 →

Hanna Liberska, Klaudia Boniecka and Tumendemberel Purev

Assuming the Roles of Aggressor and Victim by Lower Secondary School Youth. Research Report.

Introduction

According to media reports, nowadays there are a growing number of violent acts and cruel manifestations of aggression displayed by ever younger offenders. Naturally, the issue of aggression has been known for a long time, and aggressive behavior, acts of cruelty or crimes have been extensively described in literature over the ages. Nevertheless, it seems that today the instinct of aggression is less and less necessary for modern humans due to the development of civilization, and it should disappear (Spychalska-Czech, 2004). Contrary to this hypothesis, aggressive attitudes and their consequences are an incredibly serious problem of the present time. Politicians, social workers and researchers of different disciplines are even more concerned about the level of aggression. One of the most alarming and increasingly common phenomena is aggressive behavior among children and youth.

Nowadays, a growing number of aggressive behaviors can be observed among children and teenagers (Czapiński, 2007). Manifestations of aggression in children and youth can be particularly visible in the school environment (Borecka-Biernat, 2013). Aggression may appear in the form of fights, arguments or malicious rumors in peer groups. These days, however, we can observe an unprecedented level of the problem, namely, acts of aggression displayed by children and teenagers towards adults, even at school.

It should be emphasized that children and teenagers manifest aggression relatively often in peer relations both within and outside of school. However, blaming teachers in full for the externalization problems observed among students is not justified (Liberska, Matuszewska, Freudenreich, 2013). Although school is one of the more important developmental and learning environments shaping the activity of boys and girls and plays a significant role in their socializing, it is the family environment that is assigned the major role in influencing the social behavior of young people (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2007, 2014). The issue of the specificities of readiness for aggression has been tackled in the relevant literature from different ← 67 | 68 → perspectives, over which the social and socio-biological perspective prevails (cf. Frączek, 1985; Aronson, 1997, Ramirez, 1993, 2007; Krahe, 2006, Wojciszke, 2011).

Based on empirical analysis, significant correlations have been found between assuming aggressive behavior and individual personality features, biological and psychological sex, economic status and family environment (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2007, Konopka, Frączek, 2013, Liberska, Farnicka, 2013, Pagani, Franicka, Liberska, Ramirez, 2014). However, psychological knowledge about the origin of aggression, determinants of aggression and changes in these determinants over time is limited. Today, qualifying all manifestations of aggression for the category of pathological or disadvantageous behaviors in terms of societal functioning does not appear to be fully justified. Interesting deliberations on aggression and violence are presented by the famous philosopher Leszek Kołakowski (2004), who reveals not only the negative aspects of aggression but also the positive ones. To illustrate, controversies may arise concerning the aggressive behavior of a soldier fighting for his country’s freedom, a policeman dealing with an offender or a child defending his or her weaker peer. Therefore, an explanation of the issue of assuming the role of aggressor and/or victim and the correlation between using and being exposed to different forms of aggression is necessary. This problem is the subject of the study reported in this paper.

Theoretical fundamentals for own research

Definition of aggression

Although aggression has been the focus of interest for numerous researchers, there is no single widely used definition of aggression to date. Aggression is commonly understood as those behaviors which are meant to harm someone, cause loss or inflict pain (Mazur, 2002). Frączek (1979, p. 13) considers aggression to be any actions meant to cause harm and loss of socially appreciated values, inflict physical pain or cause moral suffering. This attitude is shared by Aronson (2004), who regards aggressive attitudes as all actions aimed at causing physical or mental suffering or hurting someone. Yet another definition describes aggression as any activity against people or objects causing an individual to be unhappy or angry and meant to do harm (Kmiecik-Baran, 1999). Researchers involved in the study of aggression have determine hostile and instrumental aggression (Anderson, Bushman, 1997, 2002, Wojciszke, 2000). Hostile aggression concerns an act of aggression resulting from feelings of anger and intended to do harm, whereas in the case of instrumental aggression, the intention to do harm to a person is rather a means to achieve an objective other than the harm done to the victim and is ← 68 | 69 → a more active than reactive form of aggression (Berkowitz, 1993b). A differentiation between direct and indirect aggression also seems to be useful. In addition, the relevant literature identifies such forms of aggression as verbal, physical and direct aggression (Pielkowa 1997).

Causes of aggressive behavior

There are a number of theories explaining the origin of aggressive behavior. According to some researchers, aggression is related to instinct and comprises a significant element of the evolution of living forms (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, 1997) and is indispensable for individual survival (Grochulska, 1993). A different approach to the origin of aggressive behavior was presented, for example, by Lorenz who, in accordance with the hydraulic theory, believed that the energy accumulated in an individual may be released spontaneously in the form of aggression (as cited in: Zastępowski, Grabowska, 2010, p. 127).

Berkowitz (1993a) claims that people have an inborn inclination to respond to certain impulses such as a provocation or insult from an intruder. However, whether this inclination is demonstrated in external action depends on a complex mutual reaction between internal tendencies, learned inhibitive reactions and the specific character of social circumstances (Aronson, 2004).

Yet another approach to understanding the causes of aggression is proposed by the social theory of learning. The authors of this theory (Bandura 1983; Mishel, Shoda, 1995) assume that children learn aggressive behaviors in the same way they learn any other comprehensive behaviors. This allows for directing the search for causes for aggression in social interactions and the course of socialization. Sometimes the mass media are accused of developing models of aggressive behaviors (Aronson, 2004).

The causes of aggression may be found in complicated social situations which are difficult to understand. The proper perception of a situation does not only depend on the level of mental development and efficiency of an individual’s receptors but also on one’s previous experiences which function as a selector of new information being received by the mind structures and are responsible for information rating and evaluation. Thus, we may deal with the predestination of a new behavior by a former individual experience. In this way the developmental and learning environment (particularly the family, but also school) guides the future behaviors of an individual by shaping the structure of readiness for aggression. An individual with a more developed, a “stronger” or “harder” structure of readiness for aggression may display a greater sensitivity to potentially dangerous impulses or more quickly classify certain impulses as dangerous “at the beginning.” ← 69 | 70 → Earlier positive evaluations of aggressive reactions and their positive reinforcement – for which the patterns of models and other significant people as observed and internalized by a child are responsible to a certain extent – strengthens an individual’s beliefs about the correctness of interpreting a situation, stimulates him or her to make a decision about a given way of responding (here: aggressive) and, in a sense, legitimizes it. It should be recalled at this point that the developmental and learning environment does not only provide the source of certain patterns of conduct, but also the values and standards internalized by a child. These are the regulators of human conduct accepted in a given cultural circle.

Dollard and Miller’s idea turned out to be very meaningful in better understanding aggression, as according to this concept, aggression is an inevitable effect of the frustration of instincts and needs. Nowadays this arouses controversy among specialists (cf. Wojciszke 2012).

Among other causes of aggression, the following can be found: neurological and chemical factors, lesions, physiological disorders, etc.

Today, it is relatively often assumed that aggressive behaviors are the result of genetic features and environmental impact (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, 1997). Therefore, aggression research should consider a wide spectrum of biological, social and psychological factors. Numerous researchers claim that the importance of family environment influence should not be neglected when conducting studies on the development of aggressive behavior in children and teenagers (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2007).

Aggressive behavior and sex

The relevant literature points out that sex is a significant factor in the formation of aggressive behavior, but differences observed in manifestations, frequency and levels of aggression are affected by social impact (Rudkowska,1998, Krahe, 2006). Namely, aggressive behavior among boys receives more social acceptance than in the case of girls. Greater tolerance of adults towards the aggressive behavior of boys during childhood and adolescence may lead to frequent displays of aggression during their adult years. This tolerance is connected with the attribution of certain features and expectations towards both sexes (Forsterling, 2005) often resulting from sex stereotypes. Some researchers believe, however, that this is related to human genetics and biology (Wójcik, 1986).

It has been proven that girls display verbal aggression and intermediate forms of aggression more often (Skorny, 1968). Yet boys use direct aggression, which is why they are perceived as being more aggressive. Nevertheless, the physical aggression shown by boys is more accepted by others than in the case of girls. Some ← 70 | 71 → research findings reveal a new tendency in this area. Liberska and Matuszewska obtained empirical evidence of increasing aggression in growing girls aged 16–17 – to higher levels than the ones represented by their peers (boys).

The different forms of aggression and the manifestations of aggression presented by girls and boys are affected by parental attitudes, among others (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2007). It turns out that feelings of helplessness of the father in raising his child, his lack of consequence when dealing with the child and the mother’s dominance have an influence on the development of aggressive behaviors of their sons, whereas the emotional distance of the mother and her feelings of helplessness in upbringing may affect aggressive behaviors of their daughters (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2007).

The subject of own research: assuming the role of an aggressor or victim by adolescents

Researchers involved in the issue of aggression emphasize the meaning of relatively permanent temperamental features, self-esteem, the level of self-esteem, sex, family condition and the way of fulfilling parental roles as they regard readiness for aggression (as cited in: Liberska, Farnicka, 2013, p. 247). On one hand, recent studies show that readiness for aggressive behavior in children and youth should be treated as a relatively permanent feature and thus dependent on biological factors, among others. On the other hand, some researchers (Obuchowska, 2001; Frączek, 1985) point out the significance of family factors, for example, the quality of the emotional bond between the child and parents as well as the meaning of the acceptance of aggression in the child’s environment. No single position on the stability of aggression manifestations and the level of aggressive behaviors has yet been adopted (Krahe, 2006).

Considering the above, it seems that empirical exploration of the issue of assuming the role of aggressor and/or victim and its correlation between physical and emotional aggression is of interest.

Research problem, research questions and hypotheses

This paper refers the results of a study on assuming the roles of aggressor and victim by lower secondary school youth and their mutual relationship. Attention has focused on the significance of the sex factor for assuming the role of aggressor and/or victim by adolescents. ← 71 | 72 →

The following research questions have been raised:

  1. Does sex differentiate the assumption of the role of an aggressor and a victim by lower secondary school teenagers?
  2. Is there a correlation between using and experiencing aggression?
  3. Is using various forms of aggression related to experiencing them?

Based on the analysis of the relevant literature the following hypotheses were developed:

H I. Sex significantly differentiates assuming the role of an aggressor and a victim in terms of frequency and manifestations:

  • It is expected that boys assume the role of an aggressor more often than girls
  • Girls use verbal aggression more often than boys, whereas boys use physical aggression more often

H II. There is a significant correlation between assuming the role of an aggressor and that of a victim.

H III. There are significant correlations between using one form of aggression and other forms.

Research methods

Questionnaire methods were used in the studies. One was a tool developed by K. Kmiecik-Baran: Scale “A” – Aggressor; Scale “O” – victim. The sociometric questionnaire was the second tool.

Respondents

The study was conducted in a group of 120 students of junior secondary school. The study involved 60 girls and 60 boys. The sampled teenagers were from an urban area. Intentional sampling was applied due to the age criterion. The teenagers participated in the studies with full commitment and no refusal was noted. The research was anonymous.

Analysis of research findings

Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data gathered during the study were conducted. The analysis results are shown in the table below. ← 72 | 73 →

Verification of hypothesis I

The differences in aggressive behavior between boys and girls were analyzed first (Table 1).

Table 1: Results of statistical analysis using the Mann-Whitney U test concerning the frequency of engaging in different forms of aggressive behavior.

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When comparing the groups involved in the study within the scope of assuming the role of an aggressor or a victim, applying emotional aggression and physical aggression, being exposed to emotional aggression and physical aggression, some statistically significant differences were observed in the subscales of assuming the role of an aggressor and using emotional aggression. Against the proposed hypothesis, girls turned out to assume the role of an aggressor more often than boys and use emotional aggression more frequently than boys. No statistically significant differences were determined in other subscales. Therefore, hypothesis I was not positively verified.

Verification of hypothesis II

According to hypothesis II, there is a significant correlation between assuming the role of an aggressor and victim. The analysis results are demonstrated in Table 2. ← 73 | 74 →

Table 2: Results of statistical analysis using the R Spearman test concerning the correlation between assuming the role of an aggressor and victim (significance level of .01)

VariableAssuming the role of an aggressorAssuming the role of a victim
Assuming the role of an aggressor1.000.792

The statistical analysis results indicate a statistically significant correlation between assuming the role of an aggressor and victim by lower secondary school youth. Therefore, hypothesis II shall be regarded as confirmed.

Verification of hypothesis III

According to hypothesis III, significant correlations were expected to be observed between using one form of aggression and other forms, as well as with experiencing various forms of aggression. The statistical analysis findings concerning the relationship between different aggression forms and between assuming the role of an aggressor and victim are shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Results of statistical analysis using the R Spearman test concerning the correlation between using and being exposed to various forms of aggression

img10

← 74 | 75 →

img11

The results of the quantitative analysis of the findings relating to being exposed to and using aggression reveal that all the correlations analyzed were statistically significant (significance level of .05). Statistically significant correlations were identified between using different forms of aggression. The respondents using emotional aggression admitted to using also physical aggression. Thus, statistically significant correlations were determined (significance level of .05) between one form of aggression and other forms, as well as between assuming the role of an aggressor and victim. Therefore, there are grounds for accepting hypothesis III.

Summary and conclusions

Numerous authors claim that aggression is a plague of the 21st century (Ostrowska, Surzykiewicz, 2005). Specialists in different fields emphasize the fact that an increase in aggressive behaviors is particularly high among children and youth (Zaród, 2006). According to police statistics, a growing number of crimes are being committed. The media report about the cruelty of crimes committed by even younger offenders. The public’s awareness of these facts confirms the researchers’ belief that it is necessary to conduct a thorough exploration of aggression including its origins, mechanisms, conditions and changes over time.

The studies referred to herein focused on the issue of assuming the role of an aggressor and victim by youth aged 13–16 and the significance of the biological sex factor in the regulation of the frequency of engaging in the role of an aggressor and victim.

It was determined that the youth manifesting aggressive behavior are exposed to experiencing aggression from others. The findings of this research are consistent with the reports of other researchers highlighting that assuming the role of an aggressor poses the risk of assuming the role of a victim (Liberska, Farnicka, 2013). Numerous studies (Russell, 1981; Geen, Stonner, Shope, 1975) have revealed that engaging in aggressive behavior triggers a chain of further aggression-related behavior and exposes the individual to aggressive actions from others. Likewise, the teenagers who experienced aggression from others also reveal aggressive ← 75 | 76 → behaviors. On one hand, this may be related to learning such a method of problem solving. On the other hand – according to Dollard and Miller’s idea – frustration leads to aggression (as cited in: Aronson, 1997). Teenagers who are exposed to aggression may feel frustrated because of the fact that their different needs, more or less important (for instance, self image, self-assessment of physical condition or position in the peer group), are threatened. This uncomfortable mental condition may be eased by using aggression towards other weaker peers. This way the following chain is triggered: victim – offender – victim – offender – victim… Additionally, those using violence for so-called “good reasons” are themselves exposed to experiencing harm, for example, in fights. Therefore, the thesis that aggression causes aggression has been confirmed once again (cf. Bandura, Ross, Ross, 1961).

In the study, a correlation between using emotional aggression and physical aggression was observed. People who apply one form of aggression also were involved in other aggressive behaviors. It also appears that being exposed to one form of aggressive behavior is related to experiencing another form of aggression.

The strongest correlation among the variables tested was noted between assuming the role of an aggressor and using emotional violence. This result is consistent with the reports on aggression among children and youth (Zaród, 2006). Lower secondary school teenagers apply different forms of emotional aggression as frequently revealed in the relevant studies. On the other hand, numerous alarming situations reported by the mass media have concerned a growing problem of emotional violence among teenagers. Being exposed to this form of aggression often leads to suicide attempts during adolescence. People at this age are especially sensitive to peer opinions (Obuchowska, 1996, Oleszkowicz, Senejko, 2013). It is therefore necessary to pay close attention to the emotional condition of children and teenagers (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2003, Farnicka, Liberska, 2013).

Based on the review of the studies, it was expected that there are some differences in aggressive behaviors related to sex (Björkqvist, Lagerspertz, Kaukiainen, 1992). Own research findings confirm the existence of differences between boys and girls as regards using aggression. Sex significantly differentiated assuming the role of an aggressor and applying emotional aggression. However, as opposed to the proposed hypothesis, girls turned out to assume the role of an aggressor more often than boys and use emotional aggression. Numerous study results suggest better control of aggressive behavior among women than among men (Zastępowski, Grabowska, 2010). Other studies indicate a high level of aggression among girls during adolescence (Łagocka, 2011). As revealed in the research conducted by Liberska and Matuszewska (2007), girls aged 17–18 were characterized by a higher level of aggression, whereas teenage boys revealed a decreasing level ← 76 | 77 → of aggression with age. The authors try to explain this phenomenon claiming that family has a large impact in our cultural circle, namely, that girls are subject to greater socializing pressure in our culture. This may lead to the frustration of many needs which become even more important to an individual at this developmental stage, while frustration – according to Dollard and Miller’s idea – leads to aggression (Liberska, Matuszewska, 2007).

Considering the above, it appears to be justified to conduct further research on aggressive behavior by youth, particularly in relation to the process of globalization which in turn leads to a transformation of the social and cultural life. Hence, there are new challenges for socialization: their factors, mechanisms and trends, including both those which seem to minimize the risk of aggressive behavior formation and those increasing such behavior (even for “a good reason”).

Based on own research findings, the following conclusions may be drawn:

  • In the group of lower secondary school youth involved in the study, girls assumed the role of aggressor more often than boys.
  • Applying aggression by teenagers is related to assuming the role of a victim.
  • There is a correlation between applying and being exposed to emotional aggression and applying and experiencing physical aggression.

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