Aggressiveness is a genetically determined characteristic of humans. However, it should be reduced to avoid other people and self-injury. Punishment is a widely used method to prevent aggressive behavior. However, it was demonstrated in several studies that the conception of punishment is not an effective approach to decrease aggressiveness. Other methods, such as self-awareness and empathy development, are also used to lower the level of anger and to avoid aggressive actions. Self-awareness is important for personal feeling analysis which is the key to the anger release. It is also important to express anger and other feelings in a mild way to avoid aggression. Empathy is an innate human quality that could be developed. It could be described as an ability to understand other people’s feelings and motivations. This understanding provides an opportunity to reduce aggressiveness.
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Aggression could be defined as “intentional behavior aimed at doing harm or causing physical or psychological pain to another person” (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, & Sommers, 2016, p. 408). Harm could be an initial goal of aggression or an instrument to achieve another particular purpose. Aggression is considered to be genetically determined behavior which is important for humanity to survive. However, a high level of aggression could lead to negative consequences for both an individual and a social group. Thus, a person should be able to control and reduce aggression to be successful in society. While punishment is the commonly used approach to preventing aggressive behavior, self-awareness and empathy development are underestimated but more effective techniques to achieve this goal.
The Conception of Punishment for Aggression Reduction
Punishment is a widely used measure to reduce aggression. It is applied in families when parents punish their children for inappropriate behavior or violence toward others. In families, the shout benefits restriction, and corporal punishment could be used to reduce the aggressiveness of children. Punishment is also used in the criminal justice system as a measure to prevent further adults’ crimes. For this, a fine, jail, or the death penalty are used, depending on the seriousness of a crime (Aronson et al., 2016).
According to MacKinnon-Lewis, Lindsey, Frabutt, and Chambers (2014), children who experience corporal punishment and strict discipline in the family are more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior toward their schoolmates and friends. As a result, these children start to be treated as aggressive by their teachers and other children which leads to the further increase of the aggression level. Besides, recent investigations in the area of criminal justice showed that the fear of punishment does not reduce the crime rate (Aronson et al., 2016). Thus, it could be stated that punishment might not be an effective measure to reduce aggression among the population.
The conception of punishment seems to be reasonable: “punishing any behavior would reduce its frequency” (Aronson et al., 2016, p. 399). However, as it was shown above, this measure might not be effective. The possible explanation of its ineffectiveness could be next: the punishment does not clarify what should be done. It just underlines that the current behavior is inappropriate without the reasons explanation. Besides, in some cases, punishment is the initial goal of a crime or aggressive behavior. For example, an older child could hit a younger one with the purpose to get the mother’s attention even in the form of a punishment (Aronson et al., 2016). Therefore, more effective measures to prevent aggressive behavior could be examined and applied.
The Self-Awareness and the Aggression Decrease
Anger could be considered as the most common reason for an aggressive behavior. It is a strong feeling which should be released. However, current social behavioral standards do not approve the feeling, in particular, anger expression. Thus, according to Aronson et al. (2016), “keeping our feelings bottled up and expressing them are both harmful” (p. 403), and some alternative solution should be found. The self-awareness and mild feelings expression could be the solution.
If some situation leads to the anger increase, it is important to understand the inner core of negative feelings and to explain a problem calmly and argumentatively. For example, a wife could be angry at her husband because he did not help her to clean the house but was watching TV the whole weekends. However, the real reason for her anger and the real problem of their relationship might be the lack of attention. Thus, instead of shouting about the lack of help in cleaning it is better to explain real woman’s feelings such as the loneliness and anxiety. This calm and argumentative conversation might lead to some positive results.
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Free writing could be named as a possible approach to self-awareness and inner feeling understanding. Free writing is a popular technique which is used in many psychological practices. The idea of it is that a person should write freely and without thinking for the given period of time (for example, for ten minutes) or the given length of paper (for example, three pages). This approach helps to express an inner voice of a personality and to understand real feelings and their reasons (Krueger, 2015). It also might help to release the anger and to find a possible solution to a problem (Aronson et al., 2016).
Empathy versus Dehumanization
Dehumanization is a mental process when a personality refuses to consider other person or group of individuals as humans. “Success at dehumanizing the victim virtually guarantees a continuation or even an escalation of the cruelty” (Aronson et al., 2016, p. 181). Nazi crimes against Jewish people could be considered as an example of the process of dehumanization influence on the aggressiveness.
Empathy is a natural ability of humans and some other animals to understand feelings of others. According to the Aronson et al. (2016), the empathy development could prevent aggressive behavior of an individual. It could be stated that if a person puts oneself on other people’s places and understand their feelings and motivation, it leads to the significant decrease of the level of aggression and anxiety. Special psychological training could be focused on the empathy development. However, to achieve this goal a conversation remains highly important. Only an argumentative conversation allows expressing own feelings and understanding the feelings of another person.
The mentioned above situation with the marriage couple could be considered as an example of the empathy importance. Instead of fighting, they could have a conversation. A wife could express her feelings of loneliness and anxiety and ask her husband’s reasons for not helping her. These reasons could be various: he could be too tired, or he did not want to interfere. Understanding of the situation might lead to the cooperative solution finding.
It could be concluded that several methods for the aggression decrease could be used, and the punishment, self-awareness, and empathy increase are among them. Punishment might be widely accepted but less effective than other two approaches. The self-awareness and inner feelings understanding are highly important for the anger release and aggressive diminishment. Another possible solution to the problem of high aggressiveness is the empathy development. In general, psychological approaches are more effective measures for the aggressiveness decrease.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. M., & Sommers S. R. (2016). Social psychology (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education.
Krueger, A. (2015). Whose voice is it anyway? Implications of free writing. Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, 27(2), 103-110.
MacKinnon-Lewis, C., Lindsey, E. W., Frabutt, J. M., & Chambers, J. C. (2014). Mother–adolescent conflict in African American and European American families: The role of corporal punishment, adolescent aggression, and adolescents’ hostile attributions of mothers’ intent. Journal of Adolescence, 37(6), 851-861.