Varieties of Human Aggression
Offensive Attack | If the function of offensive aggression
in animals is to obtain and hold some sequestrable resource,
how does this relate to more complicated human emotions and
impulses? We have argued (Blanchard and Blanchard 1984) that
"anger" is the emotional response to a challenge
to some resource for which the angry individual has a claim.
For example, data on violence resulting from "love triangles,"
(Wilson and Daly, 1992) suggest that these reflect attempts
to discourage challenges to the perpetrator's relationship
to and control over the love-object, regardless of whether
the latter, or a third-party challenger, serves as victim.
Similarly, Katz's (1988) descriptions of the subjective rewards
of criminal and violent behavior suggest that the "resources"
gained by violence often involve status and access to particularly
valued women and other status symbols rather than money or
goods. For many habitually violent individuals, a challenge
successfully overcome is associated with strongly positive
emotions; the more able the challenger, the sweeter the victory.
This analysis is couched in terms that may seem inappropriate
when applied to animals, but it might be considered that for
violent offenders and, for example, male rats responding to
an intruding challenger, the stimuli and situations eliciting
aggression, and the consequences of successful and unsuccessful
aggression, are very similar.
These considerations also suggest why a "challenge"
is so frequent and potent a stimulus to elicit human aggression.
As Daly and Wilson (1988) have pointed out, in populations
of young men (who notoriously account for a disproportionate
share of crimes of violence, e.g. Blanchard and Blanchard,
1983; Campbell, 1995), failures to respond to challenge jeopardize
the status of the individual in the group and limit his ability
to command important resources. A simple paradigm"challenge
elicits aggressive response"emerges as a common
feature of mammals, particularly young postpubertal male mammals.
The specific challenge involved is typically either to the
status of the individual within the group, to his access to
females or other important resources, or to both. Higher primates
complicate this paradigm in that other group members may get
involved, either as seconds (Pereira, 1989; Silk, 1992) or
in an attempt to control and defuse the situation (Reinhardt
et al., 1986). Humans have contributed the factor that challenges
may be purely verbal (and often quite inventive). They have
also created a very encompassing form of sequestrable resourcemoney.
The paradigm, however, remains, and it is a mammalian pattern,
not one found only in dysfunctional human social groups.
Defensive Attack | If offensive aggression has some
close animal-human parallels, what about defensive attack?
Although defensive attack is easy to define, it is hard to
observe in people, for both ethical and practical reasons.
Polarized hypothetical scenarios, however, elicit consistent
differences for defensive vs. offensive attack situations.
Fukunaga-Stinson (reported in Blanchard and Blanchard, 1983)
asked male and female students to respond to scenarios involving
either a physical threat (attack by a stranger in an isolated
spot) or a resource dispute by indicating the likelihood of
specific actions or feelings. With reference to emotional
response, fear dominated in the former, and anger in the latter.
Physical and physiological responses to the two situations
also differed, with "freezing" and becoming "stiff"
or showing "nervous breath" describing the fear
situation, while becoming "hot" or "burning"
was associated with the resource dispute situation, as were
"clinching fist," "staring at," and "adrenalin
surge."The first choice action for the fear situation
was to leave as soon as possible, followed by (for women)
looking around for something to hit the attacker with, and
"hit to harm" among the first five choices for both
sexes. Neither of these hitting-related choices was among
those selected as likely in the resource dispute situation,
although a strong desire to attack the challenger was often
cited. What is important is not just that these two scenarios
elicited a variety of strongly differentiated physiological
responses and subjective feelings, but that they were both
associated with a perceived tendency to either attack, or
to want to attack, the opponent.
Play Fighting | Play fighting obviously occurs in
children as well as in the young of most other mammal species.
Prepubertal boys (Boulton, 1993; Honig et al., 1992; Maccoby
and Jacklin, 1980), like prepubertal rats (Pellis and Pellis,
1990), participate more often in fights than do comparable
females. Also as in other mammals, play fighting and serious
fighting in children are different, and this difference reflects
the actions involved as well as factors such as facial expression
and the apparent intent of the participants (Boulton, 1991a).
However, the literature does contain suggestions of potential
differences between the play fighting of prepubertal children
and that of rats. In rats, the animal that proves to be subordinate
in adulthood initiates most of the play attacks (vide Pellis
and Pellis, 1992a; Smith et al., 1996), whereas play fighting
in middle school children tends to involve partners that like
each other and are closely matched in strength, with both
weaker and stronger children initiating bouts (Boulton, 1991a,b).
Another difference is that serious fighting is common enough
in prepubertal children to be of concern to parents (Boulton,
1996), whereas serious fighting is seldom observed in prepubertal
rats (Smith et al., 1996). Some component of this difference
may reflect specific learning: In a study of middle school
English children, many of the behaviors (e.g., karate chop,
back kick, scissor kick) seen in play fighting but not in
serious fighting represent actions that are likely to have
been learned through observation/imitation, perhaps of television
programs. The latter two did not occur in play fighting among
Zapotec children, who did, however, show some distinctive
behaviors of their own, such as burro kick and knuckle rap
(Fry, 1987), suggesting that the form of playfighting in 8-12
year olds already may have been greatly altered by culture-differentiated
Predation | The view that human predation has a biological
link to that of closely related mammals is supported by findings
that a variety of primates predate other vertebrates, including
mammals (e.g. Anderson, 1986; Kudo and Mitani, 1985). In addition,
primates appear to be among the few mammals that also seek
out and kill animals of species that predate them, or that
serve as major competitors for prey (Hiraiwa Hasegawa et al.,
1986), suggesting that primate hunting is by no means limited
to animals that are to be consumed. Thus the hunting of large
and dangerous animals not meant for food, a feature of virtually
every society that has lived in proximity to such animals,
also has a clear parallel in nonhuman mammalian behavior.
Animal and Human Aggressions: Parallel Neurobehavioral
We are suggesting that, rather than try to establish a basic
parallel between animal and human "aggression,"
it might be advantageous to look at the concept of aggression
as consisting of a number of different neurobehavioral systems,
at least some of which show considerable evidence of continuity
between nonhuman mammals and people.
This is not to say that everything included under the human
aggression rubric will have a direct counterpart in other
mammals. Obviously, the "aggressive" investor or
lawyer or businessman has no direct correspondent in infrahuman
mammals, but this may be because the nouns are inappropriate,
not the adjective (if the noun were "politician"
the phrase might have an enhanced correspondence). All of
these designations reflect a common theme, of actions and
attitudes that seek to expand claims to resources, rights,
or influence, in a variety of relevant arenas. When particular
aggression paradigms are individually examined there may be
either parallels that might be overlooked when an undifferentiated
"aggression" concept is employed or transformations
in the organization of that specific aggression paradigm as
larger-brained mammals with more complex social organizations
and technical capabilities are examined. This offers the possibility
of real breakthroughs in relating specific human aggression
phenomena to their nonhuman mammalian parallels.
What is likely to continue to be a stumbling block is the
one that has been there all along, that "aggression"
is one of the most value-laden terms in any language, and
probably will continue to be. Thus, while aggression can be
a "good" thing in the context of pursuit of a valued
goal, even here it carries the baggage of an implication of
activity encroaching on the rights of others; the tendency
is for the protagonist to label precisely the same actions
as "defense" of the desired goal, making the other
guy the aggressor. As the old saw goes, virtually every country
in the world has a ministry, bureau, or department of "Defense"
while not one has a bureau of "Aggression."
| 2 | 3 | 4
| back to TOC