Aggression In Man
There are different reasons why a person may act
aggressively towards other human beings. The person may act
this way because of his culture or the way he was brought
up in society. The person does not, however, act this way
based on instinct alone. Aggression is a molded, learned
behavior. A human being must have both environmental and
instinctual factors in order to display aggression. Some of
a person's natural instincts are to desire food, reject
certain things, escape from danger, fight when challenged,
sex desire, care for the young, dominate, and to accept
inferior status. The combination of instincts and
environment determines a person's behavior. This is based
on the theory that everything human beings do would have to
be learned from other human beings. Aggression must be
learned; it is not simply there from birth. Rather than
being an uncontrollable instinct, a person's behavior is
something that is taught to him. For example, a newborn
baby is breathing because it is an involuntary reflex. On
the other hand, a father may tell his young son to beat up
the school bully who is picking on him. As a result, the
boy is taught to deal with the situation by using violence.
In order for an individual to display aggression, it must
be driven by an instinct interacting with that person's
surroundings. McDougall defines the word instinct as "an
inherited or innate psycho-physical disposition which
determines its possessor to perceive, and to pay attention
to, objects of a certain class, to experience an emotional
excitement of a particular quality upon perceiving such an
object, and to act in regard to its particular manner, or,
at least, to experience an impulse to such action." This
definition basically explains that people have different
reactions for different stimuli. Therefore, an individual
is prone to act a certain way when he is stimulated to do
so from his surrounding environment. For example, the
Eskimo does not have an innate instinct that allows him to
survive in his climate. He is taught to work with his
people in order to survive when he is very young.
When people are brought up in a society, they learn
certain customs and traditions. These customs are usually
taught to them because it's part of their society's way of
life, even though some of the customs may seem cruel and
repulsive to others. For example, cannibalism is abhorrent
to us, but in some primitive cultures, to eat an enemy is
to gain his or her strength. This aggressive behavior was
taught to the people of this culture and is the reason for
its existence. People need to have exposure to
aggressiveness in society in order to act aggressive. For
example, there was a tribe in New Guinea, the fentou, who
were fierce warriors that were always fighting and killing.
The children of these people learned this hostility from
their parents and then acted in the same way. A parent's
method of child rearing lays the foundation for aggression.
The child rearing practices themselves are the overall
design of a particular culture.
When a group of people are isolated, their behavior does
not change unless they interact with other people. The
Tasaday tribe is an example of a group of people who were
completely isolated. They showed no signs of aggression due
to the fact that they had no words for weapon, hostility,
anger or war. The Tasaday were a food gathering tribe and
had no use for weapons. The tribe only used knives and
other things that might be classified as weapons as tools
to gather food. They also rejected the spear and the bow
and arrow because they could not use them to gather food.
There could not have been anything in their genetic makeup
that made them act in an aggressive or peaceful manner.
This was their way of life that was taught from generation
to generation, and the tribe did what was needed to survive.
The origin of human aggression lies in factors such as
society and culture. Aggression is a learned emotion that
is built on different factors in a person's environment. It
is the combination of environment, society and culture that
creates aggressive behavior. It is the person's natural
instincts that are the foundation for the three. The
Tasaday tribe was a peaceful group of people, while the
Fentou were aggressive warriors. Both of the tribes had the
ability for aggression and passivity but were driven to one
by their environment, society and culture.
Alland, Alexander. The Human Imperative. New York and
London: Columbia University Press, 1972.
Burke, Charles. Aggression in Man. New Jersey: Lyle Stuart
Montagu, Ashley. Anthropology and Human Nature. Boston:
Porter Sargent, 1957.
What it Means for us Today.