What Is The General Aggression Model

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 06/27/2022

For years scientists have conducted extensive research to determine the causes and effects of aggression. Many psychologists and other academics have formulated theories and models to explain what causes aggressive behavior in humans.

One of the most famous theoretical frameworks is the General Aggression Model, which was first published in 1995 by psychologists Craig Anderson, Johnie Allen, and Brad Bushman. To date, the theoretical framework has served as a leading explanation of aggression in society. 

Before developing an understanding of the General Aggression Model, it is essential to look at what aggression is and how it manifests in everyday life.

People arguing after a car accident

What Is Aggressive Behavior?

Everyone becomes upset from time to time. Aggression is a part of human nature and can be observed across almost every species that roams the earth. However, aggressive behavior can cause physical and emotional harm to other people, especially your loved ones.

 Aggressive behavior can range anywhere from verbal to physical abuse toward another individual or property. When an individual engages in aggressive behavior, they may experience the following feelings:

  •        Feelings of irritability.
  •         Feelings of restlessness.
  •         Feelings of impulsivity.
  •         Difficulty controlling your thoughts and behaviors.

 In some instances, an individual may not be able to control their aggressive behaviors. In contrast, in other situations, an individual may act aggressively on purpose due to the social environment.

What Is The Purpose Of Aggressive Behavior?

 There are many reasons an individual will partake in aggressive behaviors, including:

  •         To achieve a goal.
  •         To compete with another human being.
  •         To assert dominance over someone else.
  •         To express possession over another individual or object.
  •         As an expression of anger or hostility towards an adverse stimulus.
  •         As a reaction to both emotional and physical pain.
  •         As a response to stimuli that cause fear.
Lesbian couple fighting over the remote

What Are The Types Of Aggression?

Aggression can be defined and observed in many different ways. And research on the behavior indicates that there are four general types of aggressive behaviors.

  1.     Expressive Aggression

Expressive aggression is a type of aggression that can be observed as intentional yet not aimed at harming another individual or object. For example, a young child may intentionally knock over a tower of blocks. Although this type of behavior is aggressive to another individual, the action’s overall intent is not meant to harm another individual.

  1.     Instrumental Or Cognitive Aggression

This type of aggression can result from conflict over the possession of an object assumed to belong to someone. For example, an individual may yell at another in the parking lot of a grocery store after the driver takes the parking spot they were both waiting for.

  1.     Accidental Aggression

Accidental aggression is a behavior that may cause someone harm as a result of carelessness. For example, a student is rushing to make their final exam room before the door closes. They accidentally bump into another student.

  1.     Hostile Aggression

The last type of aggression is meant to cause both physical and psychological harm to another individual. Hostile aggression can also manifest itself as reactive aggression as a result of provocation. For example, a student may be verbally abusing another student. The student who is being bullied hits the other student as a reaction to the abuse.

Prevalence Of Aggression

It is important to note that these aggression types can be observed in both children and adult humans and are not discriminatory based on age. Although previously thought to be more present in males than females, research indicates no significant difference between them. However, it is more common to see a woman express verbal aggression towards another human. In contrast, a physical attack is more prevalent in men.

Friends fight together arguing battle

What Is The General Aggression Model?

Now that we have a general understanding of what aggression is and how it manifests in everyday life, let’s look at how the General Aggression Model (GAM) categorizes and explains aggression in human beings.

The General Aggression Model, previously known as the General Affective Aggression Model, is a “comprehensive, integrative framework for understanding human aggression by considering the role of social, cognitive-developmental, and biological factors on aggression.” The framework includes “elements from many domain-specific theories of aggression, including cognitive reassociation theory, social learning theory, script theory, excitation transfer theory, and social interaction theory.” GAM can be seen as a meta-analysis theory that encompasses the previously mentioned theories to create an all-encompassing approach to understand aggression in various contexts better.

According to GAM, human aggression is hugely influenced by knowledge structures that ultimately affect an individual’s perceptions, decisions, interpretations of their environment, and behaviors. GAM breaks these knowledge structures into the following categories:

  1.     Beliefs and attitudes (People believe aggression is normal and evaluates the behavior as positive).
  2.      Perceptual Schemata (the perception that certain events are hostile in nature).
  3.     Expectation Schemata (expecting to receive aggressive behaviors from others)
  4.     Behavioral Scripts (the belief that conflicts should be resolved using aggression).

The idea is that these knowledge structures develop through experience and can influence an individual’s perception on various levels.

The Influence Of Proximate And Distal Processes

The GAM theory can be separated into two categories: proximate and distal processes. Let’s break these down further.

Proximate Processes

 Proximate processes can help explain one-off episodes of aggression in three steps:

  1.     Inputs

This stage influences an individual’s internal state. This ultimately outlines how person and situational factors can increase or decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior through their current internal state made up of cognition, arousal, and affect. Person factors are “any individual differences that may influence how a person responds to a situation.” Meaning that an individual’s personality can be considered a summary of a person’s overall knowledge structure. Therefore, aggressive knowledge structures cause aggression to be more likely. Personality factors that may act as risk factors for aggression in people are, but are not limited to:

  •         Unstably high self-esteem
  •         Narcissistic tendencies
  •         Aggressive self-image
  •         The moral justification of violence
  •         Aggressive behavioral scripts
  •         Hostile attribution biases
  •         Dehumanization
  •         Specific personality disorders
  •         Low self-control
Angry man standing over the table in a meeting

On the other hand, situational factors are aspects of a situation that may influence whether or not aggression will occur. These situational factors will ultimately increase the overall likelihood of the presence of aggression but are not limited to:

  •         Social rejections
  •         Provocation
  •         Social stress
  •         Frustration
  •         Substance abuse
  •         Pain
  •         Loud noises
  •         Intense heat
  •         The presence of weapons
  •         The presence of threatening stimuli
  •         The fear of specific stimuli

 A combination of both personal and situational factors, in turn, works together to influence a person’s cognition, affect, or arousal. For example, “a person who believes aggression is normal and useful is more likely to be aggressive than a person who believes aggression is abnormal.”

  1.     Routes

The second stage focuses on the ‘routes’ by which person and situational factors influence a person’s decision process by affecting their cognition, affect, and arousal (internal state). Thus, any changes that are caused by these three factors increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviors. Further, input variables can influence an individual’s mood and emotions, thoughts, and arousal to specific environmental stimuli, causing them to act aggressively.

  1.     Outcomes

 The third stage focuses on the “appraisal and decision processes and aggressive or nonaggressive outcomes.” People ultimately appraise a specific situation and then decide afterward how to respond. The action chosen will then influence the overall encounter, which in turn “influences the person and situation factors.” Input variables also influence aggressive thoughts and arousal, whether physiological or psychological, by increasing or decreasing it.

Distal Processes

The General Aggression Model indicates that distal processes occur in the background of each proximate process. This essentially outlines “how biological and persistent environmental factors work together to influence personality, which in turn change person (and situation) factors.” According to GAM, biological factors that increase the likelihood of the development of aggressive personality in people include but are not limited to:

  •         Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  •         Low serotonin levels
  •         Low arousal
  •         Hormone imbalances
  •         Impaired executive functioning
  •         Increased levels of testosterone

Further, environmental factors that can increase the overall likeliness of developing an aggressive personality include, but are not limited to:

A fighting lesbian couple
  •         Maladaptive families or parenting styles
  •         Cultural norms that support violent behaviors
  •         Victimization
  •         Deprivation
  •         The presence of anti-social and violent peer groups.
  •         Continued exposure to aggressive media and video games.

What To Do If You Or Someone You Love Exerts Aggressive Behaviors

Aggressive behaviors can negatively affect you and the people you love the most. However, with the right treatments, you can learn to work through your aggressive behavioral responses and help identify the underlying causes that may be triggering you to act aggressively towards others. 

Suppose you or someone you love may be experiencing aggressive behaviors that are harming you or others. In that case, it is essential to seek help from a medical professional. 

In the meantime, you can take this aggression quiz that is tailored towards both males and females. Please note that these aggression quizzes are only there to serve as an additional indication of whether or not you should seek help from a medical professional. For all guidance regarding treatment and diagnosis, please consult a licensed medical professional.