Veterans and aggression: An empirical test of two rival theoretical models


John T. Pardeck


This article investigates two rival theories for explaining aggression in humans — the model which claims that exposure to aggression increases aggression in humans, versus that which maintains that exposure to aggression drains aggression in humans. The findings appear to support the first model, suggesting that exposure to aggression increases aggression levels in humans. Over the past three decades, a number of researchers have attempted to discover whether exposure to aggression increases or decreases aggression in human beings. Their research was prompted by a long standing dispute concerning these two models as explanations for aggres sion in humans. The first model, which claims that exposure to aggression increases it in the subject is built on the premise that most behaviour, including aggression, is learned. This perspective can be traced back to John Locke who, in 1690, postulated that the human mind was a ‘white paper’ at birth, waiting to absorb the environment around it (Harris, 1968). Many of the researchers who have argued for the first model have been part of the movement which refutes the long held belief that man is born with an aggressive nature and that this aggression drains when he is exposed to aggressive situations (Berkowitz, 1962). Freud's writings have been the main basis for the second model, which maintains that ex posure to aggression drains it in humans. Freud felt that man is instinctively aggressive by nature, and that certain types of social encounters allow him to displace or drain this aggres sion. This phenomenon has been described as the catharsis hypothesis (Buss, 1961; Berkowitz, 1962). An essentially identical ‘ergic tension’ model has been developed by Cattell ( 1965). Several theorists suggest that this drainage model of aggression can be applied to large groups of people, as well as to whole societies (Berkowitz, 1962; Ritzer, Kammeyer, and Yet man, 1979). The basic theory is that both large groups and entire societies can drain aggres sion, just as individuals theoretically do, if exposed to aggressive social situations. © 1982, Sage Publications. All rights reserved.

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International Journal of Social Psychiatry