Factors That Contribute To Physical Aggression

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 06/24/2022

The word aggression comes from the Latin word, “adgredi,” meaning “attack,” or “assail.” Generally, the word describes any violent or brutal response to any behavior, attack, or opposition. Provocation and premeditated action may precede aggression in many cases. In social and behavioral sciences, aggression is defined as an attack on the physical body (called physical aggression) or psychological harm to people (called verbal aggression).

Forms Of Aggression

The primary aim of aggression is to damage or dominate others in a relational, international, or social context. Two examples of aggressive behavior are notable—the first covers emotional and hostile or revenge aggression and the second, premeditated aggression. Experts have suggested different classifications and forms of aggression, which depends on the type of aggression, whether verbal or physical. Regardless, it means a relational kind of aggression, and it does not count if the harm is deliberate or not. It also does not matter if the action was done peacefully or aggressively or done directly or indirectly.

Aggression is often associated with certain emotions, like anger, and psychological conditions, like hostility and impulsivity. Also, aggression can be an emotional reaction to social factors or related to stressful conditions. It can also be a tool for intimidation. In children, the peak of physical aggression is between two to three years old. It wanes on average when they reach between 16 to 17. However, some children may not develop the ability for physical aggression. Corporal punishment, like spanking, tends to increase the risk of aggressive behavior in children.

The Impact Of Aggressive Behavior

A high level of aggressive behavior often leaves close relations and friends worried. In children, teachers and parents are usually concerned about the behavior, the factors contributing to the behavior, and what they can do to help.

People dealing with aggression exhibit signs of distress and trouble and are usually hard to appease. It is tough to soothe them or help them handle their behavior. These actions cause issues for aggressive children. They are often considered “naughty” or “bad” and receive punishment.

Those with aggressive behavior often cause significant distress for other people. They can be argumentative and verbally aggressive. They are often unable to control their temper and get easily irritated or upset by other people. They are usually rebellious and may seem resentful or angry. Their aggressive actions can disrupt school or at work and may hurt, intimidate, or scare others.

Unless there is an intervention, aggressive behavior patients are prone to developing severe behavior disorders like Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. When their troubles increase, their aggressive actions may threaten other adults and children’s peace and safety. When the aggressive behaviors escalate to this point, children may be suspended or expelled from school, or with adults, fired from their job. The primary focus at this point is the safety and protection of others.

Some people may show aggressive behaviors that are moderate or less troubling but still bothersome. They may slap or jab other children or pinch. Others may throw small items or break or knock-off things when they get upset or angry. Some may kick, scream, or have temper tantrums.

Verbal aggression is also common. They call other people names, threaten and tease them, or use emotional manipulation to intimidate or boss others around. They might ostracize others or spread rumors. Regardless of the level of aggression, it is necessary to promptly assist children or adults with aggressive behavior. They need to cultivate healthy coping methods to control their actions and manage their emotions, conflict, and other distressing conditions. They need to learn alternative ways to tackle issues, so they do not get easily triggered or drawn into violent response when they feel threatened.

Four Types Of Aggression

The four main types of aggressive behavior include accidental, expressive, hostile, and instrumental. It is necessary to learn the different types of aggression psychology to provide the most effective response.

Accidental Aggression

Accidental aggression is simply as implied, an accident. With no intent, a child causes harm to another. Examples of accidental aggression include stepping on someone’s foot during physical activities, hitting someone else while trying to wear a coat sleeve, or knocking over someone’s book or item while walking. Accidental aggression is not deliberate.

Expressive Aggression

Expressive aggression is an aggressive action done because it feels pleasant. The person, however, has no intention to cause harm to someone else. For instance, they may be so engrossed in an activity that they fail to notice that their actions make the other person unhappy.

Under safe and proper supervision, children kicking, knocking down, pounding, or throwing are normally physical activities. Children derive pleasure from these physical activities. However, problems start when children cross beyond the limits of safety to derive pleasure from activities that can damage people or property.

Hostile Aggression

Hostile aggression is an aggressive act done deliberately to hurt another person physically or psychologically. Those who participate in hostile aggression derive pleasure in seeing others hurt. People use hostile aggression as a tool to empower themselves or when they feel someone is intentionally trying to sabotage their efforts. This is also described as bullying in children.

Instrumental Aggression

Instrumental aggression occurs when people fight over objects, rights, or space, and someone gets injured or hurt in the process. When the two children believe they got to a paintbrush or sandpile first, they aim to assert authority over the item. In trying to take control, someone gets hurt. This type of aggression is usually carefully planned and often designed as a means to an end. An example would be harming someone during a robbery or car-jacking. The aggressor’s goal is to get money or the car, and hurting another person is the only way to accomplish that goal.

Most cases of aggression shown by children between ages two to six are instrumental, with most outbursts occurring in fights over items and toys. Toddlers and preschoolers can be reckless, selfish, and display limited communication skills. Therefore, they may kick, bite, hit, or grab to obtain what they want. In children, the aggressive behavior changes as they mature cognitively, with help and guidance from adults.

Factors That Contribute To Physical Aggression

Some of the factors that contribute to aggression include:

Alcohol And Drug Use

Research has discovered that the consumption of alcohol contributes to aggression. Excessive alcohol intake is a factor in many violent crimes, including rape and murder. It is evident, both from correlational research designs and from experiments in which participants are chosen randomly to take or not take alcohol, that alcohol intake increases the chances that people will react aggressively to provocations. Even those who are not prone to aggression may react aggressively when intoxicated.

Alcohol increases aggression for several reasons. First, alcohol upsets executive functions, including the brain’s ability to plan, organize, achieve goals, control emotions, and restrict behavioral tendencies. Executive functions happen in the prefrontal cortex, which helps people control aggression. Alcohol intake may also limit one’s ability to restrict aggressive tendencies.

Also, intoxication makes people more self-focused and less conscious of a social situation, a condition called alcohol myopia. Therefore, they may not allow themselves to be guided by social restraints. Intoxication can also prevent people from understanding the negative impact of aggression.

Although people use recreational drugs to feel good, extended use of illicit drugs can induce anger, frustration, and anger. These feelings can cause people to exhibit behaviors of rage and aggression.

Media Influence

Research suggests that violence in the media affects teenagers and may contribute to aggressive behavior. While it may be hard to tell if violence in media directly causes youth violence, studies have shown that playing violent video games contributes to aggressive thoughts and actions. In fact, one study suggested that violent video games exacerbate aggressive behaviors and cause a rise in angry thoughts and increase the heart rate and blood pressure in participants.

Also, these video games reduce “helping behaviors” and lower feelings of empathy. That’s not all; violent video games expose players to other aggressive teens, creating a feeling of acceptance and validation for their angry thoughts and emotions. Although video games are usually blamed for promoting violence, media violence is not just about video games. Violent media may also include television, the internet, magazines, movies, music, movies, advertising, social media, etc.

Communities And Neighborhoods

A person’s environment can have a significant impact on them and can contribute to aggressive behavior. The CDC notes multiple community risk factors for youth violence, including diminished economic changes and high crime rates in communities.

Also, research reveals that violence can turn into a type of “street justice” in response to the absence of police protection in certain areas. When this occurs, occupants may try to keep their neighborhood secure by using violence to restore order to the community. This is youth violence that can manifest as a turf war, gun war, gang violence, or other forms of violence.

Teenagers who live in socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods may think that the only means of survival is to join a gang or participate in violence. When this thought pattern becomes the norm, they tend to participate in physical aggression or violent behaviors.

Domestic Violence And Child Abuse

Children who grow up or live in homes where physical aggression often learn by example and may become aggressive and violent adults. They are also more at the risk of experiencing teen dating violence, either as the aggressor or as a victim.

Other factors that may contribute to this include harsh parenting methods and chaos at home, rejection, and neglect. These situations can cause physical aggression later in life due to the absence of stability and structure in the home. Being physically aggressive gives the feeling of control and power – which they do not get at home.

To curb this risk, parents must review their parenting method and make necessary adjustments to limit the risk of noticing aggressive behavior in their teens’ lives eventually. Parenting workshops can help parents learn how to deal with such situations at home.

Inadequate Parental Supervision

When parents fail to provide proper supervision, teens are prone to engaging in aggressive acts and criminal activities. The absence of adult supervision leaves teens with no resources required to make healthy choices or notice risks.

Therefore, these teenagers eventually associate with the wrong crowd, take needless risks, and try things that a committed parent would not approve of. When parents become too permissive, their kids may have no little to perform well in school and may even stop thinking about their future.

Generally, teenagers need fair and firm discipline and regular guidance from their parents. When parents play an active role in their children’s lives, the chances of violence or physical aggression reduces.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure plays a crucial role in physical aggression and violence, especially because teenagers and young adults are more prone to risky or aggressive behavior when they work as a group. Teens who are generally not aggressive on their own may feel motivated when part of a group.

Also, teens are more likely to act violently when under pressure. They may resort to physical aggression to maintain their position in the group.

Negative Emotions

Most people would describe the times they have been aggressive as a period when they felt angry, were in a bad mood, feel uncomfortable, sick, or frustrated. This is true because people are more likely to resort to aggression when they are experiencing negative emotions. During sickness, after getting poor grades, when the car fails to start – simply when people feel angry or frustrated generally – they are more likely to have unfriendly thoughts and feelings, potentially leading to physical aggression.

Aggression is mostly the result of the negative emotions people experience due to aversive events that happen to them and the negative thoughts. An example is dealing with a traumatic event. Someone who has lost a family member or friend in an auto accident that they were also involved in may be upset that they survived, but not the other person.

Since anger is a recognized stage of grief, a violent outburst from such persons may appear reasonable. However, although anger is a normal emotion, it is not acceptable to be violent toward others. When physical aggression occurs, it should be addressed immediately.

People exhibiting indications of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may become physically aggressive. Violent outbursts are often a sign of PTSD, and without treatment, can show in extremely violent conditions. Therefore, it is necessary for people with PTSD to seek counseling and intervention that they require.

Mental Disorder

Mental illness is another common cause of physical aggression. Such conditions include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder all have aggression and anger as common indicators.

Other contributors to physical aggression often mask mental illness. For example, someone with bipolar disorder may be using drugs. If they become violent, drug use could mask the fact that bipolar disorder is also one cause. Therefore, people prone to physical aggression must get evaluated for a mental disorder. By providing holistic treatment, instead of only the symptoms, there is a better chance of lowering further violent outbursts.

In Conclusion

Different forms of therapy may be effective in treating physical aggression or violent behavior, depending on the factors contributing to the action and the personality and the experiences of the person in question. Taking an assessment is a good place to start if you have noticed signs of aggression in yourself.