Discuss institutional aggression. (8 marks + 16 marks)

This is a broad question which can be answered using explanations, research, or a combination of both. There is, however, a requirement to discus more than one explanation.


Institutional aggression refers to aggression within or between groups or institutions (e.g. armed forces, prisons). Much of the research on models of institutional aggression has been done in prison environments. The importation model suggests that inmates in prison bring their social histories and traits into prison with them. This influences their adaptation into the prison environment. People who were more aggressive outside of prison will be more aggressive in prison: they are not 'blank states' when they enter prison.

The importation model has some support from research studies. DeLisi et al. found a slight positive correlation between gang membership and aggression in prison, suggesting that aggression factors from before entering prison influence  aggression in prison. However, the relationship may not be causal as there may be intervening variables such as socioeconomic status or ethnicity.

The deprivation model suggests that aggression in prisons and other institutions is the product of the stressful and oppressive conditions of the institution itself. For example, aggression in prisons can by catalysed by deprivation of liberty, lack of autonomy, lack of goods or services, lack of heterosexual relationship and absence of ample security.

There is a substantial amount of research evidence to support this model. For example, McCorkle et al. found that overcrowding, lack of privacy & the lack of meaningful activity in prisons all significantly influence violence. However, these factors did not influence the likelihood of major collective acts of aggression (i.e. prison riots), suggesting that the deprivation model may only apply to some forms of aggression.

Aggression in prisons can be controlled by improving conditions, showing that deprivation can increase aggression. For example, Wilson changed the deprivation conditions at HMP Woodhill, and levels of violence decreased, giving support to the deprivation model. This also presents a useful application of this research: it can be used to reduce levels of violence in prisons by improving living conditions in those prisons.

Just as the deprivation model may not apply to all forms of aggression, it may also not apply to all types of institutions. Nijman et al. found that increased personal space in psychiatric institutions failed to decrease the amount of violence among patients. This suggests that while the deprivation model may be applicable to prison environments, it may not be relevant to violence within psychiatric institutions.

Massacres are often a form of institutional aggression most frequently committed during wartime , such as the massacres of Jews and other groups during World War II. Milgram argues that this happens due to the situational pressures of war (such as stress and the constant fear of attack), which causes soldiers to obey their leaders. This can be demonstrated by the fact that in the Holocaust, many soldiers claimed that they were simply following their superiors' orders.

Goldhagen argues that the Holocaust was not due to obedience, but due to the anti-Semitism which was prevalent at that time. Obedience does not explain the unnecessarily cruel acts committed, in which soldiers were far more brutal than was commanded of them. Anti-Semitism was rife in Nazi Germany, with Jews dehumanised so that normal moral considerations were not seen to apply to them.

Hazing is a form of institutional aggression in which more senior members of a group inflict physical and/or psychological damage on newer group members as part of an initiation ritual. Hazing is thought to happen due to situational influences: it is a long-standing tradition which senior members of a group are expected to perform, creating social pressure for them and creating the perception that hazing is acceptable. It may also be a display of male toughness in some cultures, used to express dominance over other group members.

Research has supported the idea that hazing is used to establish dominance within groups. McCorkle found that in prisons, the dominance of weaker inmates was seen as essential to maintaining status, with passive behaviour being interpreted as weakness.

However, problems arise in determining what is and what is not considered 'aggressive behaviour' in this area. For example, many people who are exposed to hazing regard it as nothing more than harmless fun. This is a limitation of research into hazing focusing on institutional aggression: hazing may often not be related to aggression at all.

There is also a significant gender bias in research into hazing. Research suggests that hazing is likely to be caused by notions of male toughness: however, this ignores hazing carried out by females. Hazing by females is often carried out differently to hazing by males, with females more likely to use psychological hazing.

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