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The Biological and Emotional Causes of Aggression

15 January, 2016 - 09:21

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain how aggression might be evolutionarily adaptive.
  2. Describe how different parts of the brain influence aggression.
  3. Summarize the effects of testosterone and serotonin on aggression.

When we see so much violence around us every day, we might conclude that people have an innate tendency, or even an instinct, to be aggressive. Some well-known philosophers and psychologists have argued that this is the case. For instance, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) took this view, arguing that humans are naturally evil and that only society could constrain their aggressive tendencies. On the other hand, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was more positive. He believed that humans are naturally gentle creatures who are aggressive only because we are taught to be so by our society. The influential psychologist Sigmund Freud, who lived through the disaster of World War I in which millions of his fellow human beings were massacred, argued that although people do have a “life instinct,” they also have a “death instinct”—an impulse toward destruction of themselves and others.