Continuity vs. (Political) Correctness:
Animal Models and Human Aggression

D. Caroline Blanchard, Mark Hebert, and Robert J. Blanchard
D. Blanchard is Research Professor at the Pacific Biomedical Research Center and Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at the John A. Burns School of Medicine of the University of Hawaii. Hebert is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii. R. Blanchard is Professor of Psychology and Neurosciences, University of Hawaii. With HFG support, D. Blanchard and R. Blanchard are writing a book on the biology of aggression.
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The problem, in short, is that many aggression researchers are afraid of the term and of the concepts that it represents. In particular, students of human aggression are afraid of some of the implications of the view that human aggression is essentially similar to aggression in other mammals. Among these implications is that some instances of aggression, and the situations and stimuli that elicit them, are embedded in normal circumstances of life for people as well as for most nonhuman mammals. In this sense, some aggressive behaviors may be legitimate and normal. Another such implication is that instances of or tendencies toward aggression may be evolutionarily adaptive for the individual. If this is true, then these individuals, aggressive under particular circumstances, may leave more descendants, and these descendants would be expected to express, to varying degrees, that tendency. From the perspective of animal research, these implications seem to be undeniable, although the various mechanisms involved are in need of a great deal more analysis, as is the equally undeniable relationship of aggression to experience and to the interaction of experience with a host of genetic, gender, hormonal, and neurological factors. But, although some aggressive tendencies, in some situations, may be normal and adaptive, an emphasis on different types of aggression and on their relationship to specific eliciting circumstances makes the point that violent acts not in agreement with these guidelines may be neither normal nor adaptive. Clearly maladaptive aggressive behaviors, such as those of the occasional male rat that kills females and even related young, do sometimes appear in nonhuman mammals as well, to the detriment of both the individual and its companions.

Set against some of the past and contemporary horrors of human history, acceptance of the view that aggression is basically an adaptive behavior pattern involving a variety of complex biological systems interacting with experience, even if correct, may be interpreted as political naivete. We take this point. In opposition, however, is another point. The truth may not set you free, but it does make you somewhat better equipped to cope with reality. Acceptance of important continuities in stimulus, organism, response, and outcome components of particular aggressive behaviors between nonhuman mammals and people promotes a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of human aggression. The goal of science is to understand, predict, and control phenomena. In order to improve the latter two of these, the first is required.

Adapted from D. Caroline Blanchard, Mark Hebert, and Robert J. Blanchard. In press. Continuity versus (political) correctness: animal models and human aggression. In Marc Haug and Richard E. Whalen (Eds.), Animal Models of Human Emotion and Cognition, Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. Adapted with permission.

Preparation of this article was supported in part by NSFIBN95-11349.


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