Aggression and social attachment





“Aggression is defined as behavior directed toward another individual carried out with the immediate intent to cause harm.”



  • Lorenz’s Theory of Aggression

Basic principles of Lorenz’s theory –

Firstly, Lorenz believed that aggression is normally useful and functional in the survival of any species.

He, challenged the Freudian view of death instinct and suggested that aggression has survived so many centuries of evolution because it helps animals adapt and survive.

He pointed out that the more aggressive an animal is, the more are its chances to survive the contest and reproduce.

Lorenz suggested that the ‘pecking order’ is based upon aggression and helps social hierarchy establishment in intra-species groups.

Secondly, he believed that there is always an equilibrium between killing power and inhibitions.

Animals who have powerful natural weapons, also have innate inhibitory behavioral mechanisms to avoid intra-species killings.

This equilibrium helps maintain the species at large.

Lorenz argued that humans have artificial weapons, which developed faster than our inhibitory mechanisms could evolve.

Thirdly, according to Lorenz, aggression gets accumulated if it is drained out.

He believed that prehistoric humans had ways of draining aggression, but our social sophistication today does not allow any such mechanism.

He proposed that this pent-up aggression can be directed in constructive ways (e.g. by indulging in or watching competitive sports).

Criticisms of Lorenz’s Theory of Aggression

The behaviorists argued that humans are not driven by instincts, but are learning animals.

According to them, human aggression is a result of learning. Secondly, research has not been identify any neural mechanisms that support Lorenz’s claim of accumulation of aggression.

Neural mechanisms of aggression are usually activated in response to an external stimulus.

Many research findings have also shown that vicarious catharsis or indulgence in competitive sports may not lead to decrease in aggression, and may, in fact increase it


Environmental Theories of Aggression

Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

According to some theorists like Dollard, Doob,  Miller, etc. frustration always leads to aggressive behaviors.

Social Learning Theory of Aggression

Bandura and Walter believed that observational learning, especially imitation of social models is the basis of human aggression.

Social Learning Theory of Aggression

Bandura demonstrated that if the model was punished for aggressive behavior, imitation of their acts reduced.

However, this reduction is limited to the imitation and not to the acquisition of aggression.

Violence in media also has shown to elicit imitation and indulgence in aggressive acts, however the relationship is complex.



Types of Aggression:


Lorenz’s Typology

Lorenz proposed that there are six types of innate aggression –

Usually, occur between members of different species.

    1. Predatory Aggression – It is the attack by the predator on the prey.
    2. Mobbing Aggression – It occurs when the prey counterattacks in force against a predator.
    3. Mobbing Aggression – It occurs when the prey counterattacks in force against a predator.

Usually, occur between members of the same species.

    1. Territorial Aggression– It is the fight of an animal to protect its territory.
    2. Rival Fights – It occurs when animals (mostly males) fight for a mate.
    3. Brood Defense – It is the protective reaction to possible threat to an organism’s offspring.

Feshbach’s Typology

Feschback distinguishes between Hostile and Instrumental aggression.

    1. Hostile Aggression – The behavior with the goal of injuring somebody or something. Injury to the object is the end in itself rather tan a means to some other end.
    2. Instrumental Aggression – Aggressive behavior directed towards the achievement of non-aggressive goals. It is usually a result of learning.


Moyer’s Typology

Moyer has given 8 types of aggression on the basis of the stimulus situation that elicits them –

  1. Predatory Aggression – An attack by a predator on its natural predator is predatory aggression.

The range of stimuli that elicits this type of response is quite narrow.

Predatory attack can virtually take place in any environment.

The topography of predatory attack is often distinct from other types of aggressive attacks.

The opportunity to kill prey animals is reinforcing.

Also, fear inhibits predatory aggression while hunger enhances it.

The lateral nucleus of the hypothalamus may be particularly involved in predatory aggression. Stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus often elicits stalking and attack in predatory animals like cats.

The amygdala also plays a role in predatory aggression, possibly by controlling the functioning of the lateral hypothalamus.


  1. Inter-male Aggression – This type of aggression is elicited by a male stranger of the same species.

 The topography of this response is very stereotyped and ritualized.

 Evidence suggests that inter-male aggression increases during the breeding season and is inhibited by fear.

 Testosterone seems to underlie inter-male aggression. It increases aggression even in castrated and immature male rats (who are otherwise not aggressive).

 Testosterone has no effect on female rats.

It appears to influence sex-related behaviors and alter neural mechanisms much earlier in life.

  1. Fear-Induced Aggression – It is aggression that follows attempts to escape.

Moyer argued that reduction in fear should lead to reduction in fear-induced aggression.

Amygdala lesion reduce both fear and aggression, whereas amygdala stimulation increases both fear and aggression. The septal region shows opposite effects.


  1. Irritable Aggression – It is different from other types of aggression in that it has a diverse range of stimuli that can be subject to attack.

The aggression can range from mild display of annoyance to extreme violent rage.

Pain, frustration, deprivation, stress, etc. aggravate irritable-aggression.

The amygdala, temporal lobes, and septal region seem to be involved in irritable aggression.


  1. Maternal Aggression –

 It is a combative response of a mother toward a threatening intruder when the intruder comes close to her offspring.

 The probability that the mother will attack depends upon –

    1. a) how close the intruder is to her offspring
    2. b) how serious the threat is
    3. c) what the hormonal status of the mother is

In most animals, hormones related to pregnancy are responsible for maternal aggression.

 In primates, even external stimuli can elicit maternal aggression in the mother, other females in the group, and even males in the group.

  1. Territorial Aggression –

It is the tendency of an animal to attack strangers who are trespassing their established territory.


  1. Instrumental Aggression –

Unlike all other types of aggression, instrumental aggression does not have a definite physiological basis.

If aggressive behavior is reinforced, the organism will tend to repeat that behavior in similar situations, irrespective of the neural and hormonal mechanisms underlying aggression.

It is aggression directed toward the achievement of non-aggressive goals.


  1. Sex-Related Aggression –

It this type of aggression, the target of aggression is the same stimulus that produces sexual responses.

Though it is observed in animals, its nature in humans is very complex.

Castration and anti-androgen drugs seem to decrease sex-related aggression.



Lorenz showed that ‘cute’ features of infants usually elicit caring responses.

These features which act as natural releasers include – head larger in proportion to the body, large eyes below the midline of the face, round and protruding cheeks, a rounded and soft body, and short thick extremities.

McArthur suggested that in general, facial features with attributes that are important for adaptive functioning, create direct impressions in others.

Research has shown that a person with a ‘baby-face’ is rated higher in honesty, warmth, kindness, etc.

Such features also elicit protective tendencies in adults.

The facial expressions and crying when in pain help obtain care from the caregivers, while a sad face helps strengthen the bond between them.

Panksepp suggests that separation from consociates produces distress vocalizations in the young ones.

These distress vocalizations elicit helping, nurturing, and mothering tendencies in adults.

Though the exact location of brain areas responsible for social attachment cannot be identified, the hypothalamus, septal region and cingulate gyrus seem to be involved in social attachment motivation.

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