The escalation of aggression in people as measured by the progression of insult severity
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Research investigating the underlying causes and factors involved in violence and aggression has suggested there is a tendency for aggression to escalate as a means to justify prior aggression. In addition, past research has also examined the effect of perceived similarity towards the target of aggression on intensity and escalation of aggression. This study looked at the relationship between initial level of aggression and the escalation of aggression and at perceived similarity to the target of aggression as a possible factor influencing this escalation. Individuals engaging in severe initial aggression who experience higher perceived similarity to their targets of aggression should be more prone to justifying their actions and so might escalate more. To examine this, subjects could administer any of 10 levels of negative reinforcement (insults) to a learner for incorrect responses. Half of the subjects were required to practice this procedure with a mild and half with a severe insult. Results indicated that an effect of perceived similarity emerged, with individuals using less severe insults when perceived similarity to the learner was high. Contrary to predictions, high-perceived similarity to the learner stemmed escalation for participants insulting the learner with a severe insult initially. Moreover, participants who insulted with a mild insult initially escalated in their aggression when perceived similarity was high. In addition, an interaction effect of gender and perceived similarity was found, with men engaging in more severe subsequent aggression than women when perceived similarity to the target of aggression is high. The limitations, further directions, and implications of this study are discussed.