In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Aggression

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Experimental and Non-Experimental Methods
  • Cultural and Environmental Influences
  • Neuroscientific and Genetic Influences
  • Social Rejection
  • Self-Esteem, Narcissism, and Psychopathy
  • Gender Differences
  • Self-Control
  • Physicality and Embodied Cognition
  • Weapons
  • Emotional Influences
  • Media Violence Effects
  • Chemical Influences

Psychology Aggression
Timothy Deckman, Richard S. Pond, C. Nathan DeWall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0087


Violence and aggression are prevalent across human cultures and daily life. One merely has to turn on the television or open an Internet browser to quickly gain access to violent images. For our early human ancestors, aggressive behavior had considerable adaptive value. For instance, aggression is useful for gaining access to precious resources, including food and shelter, and then protecting those resources once they are obtained. Aggression is also useful in gaining access to mates and protecting offspring. Therefore, aggression proved to be a good behavioral strategy for passing on one’s genes to subsequent generations. However, not all acts of aggression are adaptive. Humans depend on social groups for survival, therefore people must negotiate between antisocial and pro-social impulses. Aggression is particularly destructive in modern times, especially since it appears to be so ubiquitous in our everyday interactions. Thus, it remains a large area of study within the social sciences, especially among social psychologists. Psychologists employ a variety of research methodologies to study the causes and consequences of aggression, which groups are most at risk for aggressing against others, and how aggression can be reduced. In the following bibliography, we present general overviews on aggression, which introduce the prevailing psychological theories of aggression and review the research literature on the causes and consequences of aggression. We next present the research methods used by psychologists to study aggressive behavior. The remainder of the bibliography focuses on the major areas of research on aggression, with emphases on genetic and environmental correlates of aggression, as well as self- and emotion-processes that increase or reduce aggressive behavior.

General Overviews

Aggression can at times be a difficult construct to study. There are many ethical limitations to studying aggression in a laboratory setting; psychologists may not lock people up in a room without food and wait for them to fight. However, the need to understand how and why people become aggressive is imperative to peaceful societal functioning. Some of these review articles begin to delve into many of the issues that aggression researchers face on a daily basis. Bushman and Huesmann 2010 does a great job of giving a state of the field in terms of the history of aggression and its theories. Also, Anderson and Bushman 2002 goes into detail about current thinking about aggression, namely the general aggression model. Baron and Richardson 1994 provides the classic definition for aggression used by most psychologists today. Dollard, et al. 1939 is a classic text on aggression, in which the frustration-aggression hypothesis is laid out. Finally, Blanchard and Blanchard 2003 offers insight into how and why nonhuman animal models of aggression can inform current knowledge on the topic.

  • Anderson, Craig A., and Brad J. Bushman. 2002. Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology 53:27–51.

    This review paper deals specifically with current theory on aggression. It outlines past theory that has been modified over time based on empirical results. The authors make a case for a general aggression model that encompasses and explains past theory as well as empirical challenges to these theories.

  • Baron, Robert A., and Deborah R. Richardson. 1994. Human aggression. 2d ed. New York: Plenum.

    This paper is important, as it provides the definition of aggression that most psychologists use today. Aggression is defined as any act meant to harm another person who is motivated to avoid such harm.

  • Blanchard, D. Caroline, and Robert J. Blanchard. 2003. What can animal aggression research tell us about human aggression? Hormones and Behavior 44:171–177.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0018-506X(03)00133-8

    Nonhuman animal researchers have much tighter controls over their environments as well as the genetic makeup of their subjects. Also, things such as defensive aggressive behavior can be studied in animals but not in humans due to ethical considerations. Specifically, this article states that the offense-defense distinction incorporated into nonhuman animal models can be applied to humans as well.

  • Bushman, Brad J., and L. Rowell Huesmann. 2010. Aggression. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 833–863. New York: John Wiley.

    This article does a great job of letting the reader know the current state of aggression theory and research. This lengthy review paper goes into detail about past theories of aggression. Also, specific variables that impact aggression are dealt with.

  • Dollard, John, Leonard W. Doob, Neal E. Miller, Orval Hobart Mower, and Robert R. Sears. 1939. Frustration and aggression. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1037/10022-000

    This book outlines classic frustration aggression hypothesis. According to this theory all aggression is rooted in frustration. This book argues that people simply do not aggress without having some reason to do so. However, the frustration aggression hypothesis has since been incorporated into larger theories that address some of its theoretically limitations (e.g., increased aggression due to alcohol consumption).

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