Animal and Human Aggression.

Aggression, according the definition of Konrad Lorenz is “The fighting instinct in beast and man which is directed against members of the same species.”. However, according to J. P. Scott “…all stimulation of aggression essentially comes from the forces present in the external environment.”.

According to A. Barnett (The Human Species (1968), Pelican) territorial behaviour –  is easier to describe this behaviour in terms of attack, aggression, plus appeasement on the other hand. But – less misleading to use the terms approach, and withdrawal, thus “…territorial behaviour of animals depends on systems of signals common to the whole of the species – responses – signals – standardised.”

A predator attacks a different species in hunting. Behaviour towards members of animals – own species is of a different sort – predators are no more aggressive towards their own kind than are plant eaters. The first essential for a territorial animal is that it must be aggressive towards its own kind. Aggression can be seen in other situations – animals fight over food, ‘pecking orders’, but most conspicuous at the start of the breeding season.

This is the establishment of territories. Establishment of a territory involves both attack and escape behaviour – meeting and boundary, are both attack and escape in a conflict situation. Attack and escape occur during fighting and comprise attack and escape behaviour.

Under natural conditions prolonged fighting is extremely rare. There is escape before serious damage. Selection favours the individuals who quickly recognise defeat. Thus he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Fighting behaviour evolved as a ritualistic and formalised encounter. Rivals assessing in the process their opponents strength.

The most important protagonists of ‘innate aggression’ were Konrad Lorenz (On Aggression); Robert Ardrey (African Genesis; The Territorial Imperative); Raymond Dart (Adventures with the Missing Link); Desmond Morris (Naked Ape; Human Zoo); Antony Storr (Human Aggression; Human Destructiveness); Peter Marsh. According to Stephen Rose (The Conscious Brain) however:

“A talent for music, for example, seems to be inherited. The ability to play the piano, a specific form of human behaviour, is not.”  Similarly “…no amount of inherited musical talent will make a musician unless it is combined with many years of several kinds of experience.”  Moreover “…the inheritance provides only the potentiality, it is decades of daily experience that determines the specific outcome.”

Erich Fromm (The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness) recognised two types of aggression: (1) biologically adaptive which is life preserving, and phylogenetically determined, common to animals and man;  (2) malignantly destructive which is destructiveness, cruelty, which is biologically non-adaptive and malignant. Common only to humans, arises out of conditions of existence. But M. F. Ashley Montague (On Aggression) states the “…facts do not support such a theory.”

Forms of aggression have been classified according to stimulus situation: (1) predatory; (2) anti-predatory; (3) territorial; (4) dominance; (5) material; (6) weaning; (7) parental disciplinary; (8) sexual; (9) sex related; (10) inter-male; (11) fear induced; (12) irritable; (13) instrumental. These types are not mutually exclusive but different neural and endocrine bases.

Therefore + “There is no such single kind of behaviour which can called aggressive.” Furthermore “…nor is there any single process which represents ‘aggression’. Perhaps this is the most important thing that can be said about defining aggression, for it suggests that aggression may be understood and analysed a many levels.” Both quotes: Johnson, R. N.  Aggression in Man and Animals (1972).

Aggression and prenatal development, including prenatal oxygen deprivation due to smoking and drugs of any kind which lower blood oxygen levels, all affect child’s development. Children often draw on parental aggression towards themselves as the model for their own behaviour towards others.


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