Unit 3 AQA Psychology: Aggression
Hi guys – Saj here,
One of the possible essay questions for unit 3 aggression is the ethological explanation of aggression. This is new to AQA psychology as it wasnt in the old specification and there’s not much resources on this (until now) to help you understand what exactly an essay on it should look like. I’ve covered this with a model essay answer in my aggression ebook which you can download over here at the Loopa.co.uk.
An extract from this ebook covering the ethological explanation of aggression is below; this highlights the theory section so it gives you an idea of the standard you need to be working to to score an A* grade for this essay and topic. The essay is worth up to 16 marks so 6 marks will be on theory which I’ve outlined below. If you want to get the full essay you can download the aggression ebook on Loopa which covers this topic and every single other possible essay question you can be asked for aggression in unit 3.
Outline and evaluate or discuss the ethological explanation of aggression ( click for 16 mark essay)
The ethological explanation of aggression proposes that all members of one species have a repertoire of stereotyped behaviours which are innate and do not require learning and occur within specific conditions when triggered by a sign stimulus. Niko Tinbergen named these behaviours “fixed action patterns” (FAPs) and they are produced by a neural mechanisms known as an innate releasing mechanism (IRM). The IRM receives input from sensory recognition circuits which are stimulated by the sign stimulus. The IRM then communicates with motor control circuits to activate the FAP associated with that sign stimulus. Tinbergan studied stickleback fishes and demonstrated how they produced a fixed sequence of aggressive behaviours when another male stickleback fish entered its territory. The sign stimulus in this case was the red underbelly of the male stickleback and if this was covered, they were not attacked. The fact that all male stickleback engaged in this behaviour suggests it is invariant and a strong argument for the behaviour being biologically determined (nature). This behaviour is also believed to be adaptive as it increases evolutionary fitness by warding off other males from their nest while remaining inviting for female stickleback fish who do not have a red underbelly. Applying this to humans it is argued that aggression may also be an adaptive response to increase fitness if it is a fixed action pattern of behaviour.
Other explanations of aggression have looked at ritualistic aggression seen in animals in the form of threat displays. These displays of aggression help the animals involved determine their own strength as well as their opponents to help them decide whether to escalate into physical combat. This helps animals make costly and dangerous physical violence less likely to occur as they can better assess the outcome and motivation of the other animal. Gorillas for example use a variety of threat displays such as hooting and chest pounding to intimidate opponents in an attempt to make them back down.
Applying this to humans Gardner and Heider (1968) found evidence to suggest ritualised patterns of intergroup aggression occurred within the Dani tribe in New Guinea. Fox (1978) found similar evidence of ritualised fighting and threat displays among men of the Gaelic-speaking Tory island off the coast of Ireland.
Lorenz (1952) also believed some species developed instinctive inhibitions that prevent them using their evolved weapons against members of their own species. For example wolves have powerful jaws and strong teeth and if a wolf that is losing submissively exposes its neck to its adversary these inhibitions kick in preventing the dominant animal from continuing the fight and potentially killing the weaker animal. Non-hunting species have no powerful weapons and Lorenz proposed they would not have developed these mechanisms to control inhibition and prevent hurting their own species. For example humans do not have natural weapons and have not developed any strong instinctive inhibitions from killing other humans.