In this wide-ranging discussion of the social psychology of human aggression, Leonard Berkowitz examines the findings of behavioral research about conditions and circumstances that promote anger and aggression. Emphasizing that aggression takes numerous forms and has many causes, Berkowitz distinguishes between instrumental aggression (assaults carried out to benefit the attacker in some way) and emotional (impulsive or expressive) aggression. He points out that they have different origins and aims and are best controlled in different ways. Although he gives much attention to the conditions promoting deliberate instrumental aggression, Berkowitz also shows that many assaults are highly emotional acts. He therefore considers conceptions of emotion and the nature of anger and offers a new theory of the factors affecting impulsive aggression. The discussion throughout is based on both laboratory experiments and "real world" field studies.
Berkowitz summarizes what behavioral scientists have learned about the nature of highly aggressive personalities and the family and childhood backgrounds of those who are disposed to violent, antisocial behavior. He also reports important studies of the effects of violence depicted in the mass media. In discussing conditions that lead to child abuse, spouse battering, and murder, Berkowitz identifies such risk factors as childhood experiences, frustration, poverty, and personal and social stresses, as well as external events and situations that bring hostile ideas to mind. He also examines biological influences, such as hereditary factors, hormones, and alcohol, that promote aggressive tendencies.
Reviewing studies of the use of punishment and legal controls (e.g., the death penalty, gun control laws), the author discusses how this socially destructive behavior might be reduced. He presents research on the effectiveness of various psychological procedures, including the supposedly cathartic methods, instrumental training, and cognitive and anger control techniques.
This general introduction to the research and theorizing about human aggression seeks to promote understanding of the fundamental causes of destructive conduct, the conditions that can increase the chances of aggressive behavior, and the most effective steps that could be taken to reduce the likelihood of violence in society.