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Aggression: Risk Factors in the Person and the Situation  

Barbara Krahé

Aggressive behavior is defined as social behavior carried out with the intention to harm. Violence denotes those forms of aggression that are intended to cause severe physical harm. Aggressive behavior has severe negative consequences for individuals, social groups, and societies as a whole. Therefore, understanding why some individuals are more prone to engaging in aggressive behavior than others and some situational circumstances and social contexts are more likely to elicit aggressive behavior is a critical task. Influential psychological theories of aggression conceptualize aggression as the result of the interplay between variables in the person and the situation. To explain individual differences in aggressive behavior, one line of research has looked at broad personality dimensions, such as self-esteem and narcissism, lack of self-control, and the “Big-Five” personality factors. Evidence shows that high narcissism, low self-control, low openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness, and high neuroticism are linked to a higher propensity to engage in aggressive behavior. Another line of research has focused on more circumscribed, aggression-related personality constructs, demonstrating that individuals who are habitually anger-prone, have a tendency ruminate about anger-eliciting experiences, and show a hostile attributional style in terms of seeing other persons’ behavior as an expression of hostile intent are more likely to show aggressive behavior. On the side of the situation and social environment, several conditions have been identified under which the likelihood of aggressive behavior is increased. Individuals are more likely to show aggressive behavior when they have consumed alcohol, after they have experienced social rejection by others, when aggressive cues, such as weapons, are present in the situation, and when they have access to a firearm. Aggression is also more likely to be shown under conditions of anonymity and high temperature and as a result of regular exposure to depictions of violence in the media. In addition to such “main effects,” there is evidence of an interactive effect of individual and situational characteristics. For example, the impact of exposure to violent media is greater on individuals with a higher disposition to show aggressive behavior, and the effect of alcohol consumption on aggression is greater among people who are habitually prone to engage in angry rumination. Approaches to preventing aggression may build on the evidence on personal and situational differences. For example, anger management trainings may promote better control of angry impulses, focusing on the personal risk factors for aggression, whereas providing role models who show nonaggressive responses in anger-eliciting situations reflects a focus on situational interventions. In conclusion, personality and situational variables need to be considered in combination and interaction to predict when aggressive behavior is likely to occur. Gaining a better understanding of the factors promoting aggressive behavior needs to remain high on the agenda for theory building and empirical research in psychology.


Attachment Theory from Ethology to the Strange Situation  

Marga Vicedo

In psychology, the term “attachment” has been made popular by British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory about the adaptive value of the mother–infant bond. Bowlby was not the first to use the term “attachment” or to study the significance of close emotional relationships for infants and young children. Anna Freud and other psychoanalysts had used the term to refer to the mother–child relationship. Bowlby’s views, however, departed from psychoanalysis because he appealed to the science of ethology, the biological study of behavior, for support. According to Bowlby, the mother–infant attachment has a biological basis. The operationalization of the ethological theory of attachment through the work of American- Canadian child psychologist Mary Ainsworth played a key role in the rise of the ethological theory of attachment to paradigmatic status toward the end of the 20th century. Ainsworth carried out observational studies of the attachment between mothers and infants. She also designed an experiment, the strange situation procedure (SSP), to measure and categorize attachment relationships between infants and mothers. Ainsworth and her students argued that their experimental work in the SSP supported Bowlby’s views about the instinctual nature of the child’s attachment to the mother and the importance of a secure attachment in infancy for a person’s adequate emotional development. Attachment theory has become one of psychology’s most influential theories about early child development and its impact on an individual’s subsequent emotional life and adult relationships. Supporters claim its universal validity and its prescriptive character. For them, attachment theory establishes the norm of what is considered healthy emotional and psychological childhood development, and it sets the standards for good parenting. In the Western world, attachment theory has an impact in various realms, including childcare, adoption policies, education, and therapy. Many schools of early childhood education identify children at risk for poor learning in the classroom as a result of attachment problems at home. Pediatricians often rely on attachment theory to encourage specific practices in parent–child interactions. Therapeutic approaches for children, families, and couples are sometimes based on attachment theory, as are decisions about adoption, parental rights, and child custody. Furthermore, some intervention programs in family and educational practices implemented by international NGOs rely on attachment theory. The ethological theory of attachment, however, has also been contested since its inception. Several psychologists critiqued the empirical studies about maternal deprivation on which it was erected. Other scholars challenged the notion that biological science supports its claims. Finally, numerous cross-cultural psychologists and anthropologists challenged the universality of several of its central tenets. They call for recognizing the cultural assumptions embedded in attachment theory, in the instruments and constructs used to measure it, and in the expectations it promotes about good parenting.


Vygotsky and the Cultural-Historical Approach to Human Development  

Ekaterina Zavershneva and René van der Veer

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (real name Lev Simkhovich Vygodsky; Orsha 1896–Moscow 1934) was a Russian psychologist who created cultural-historical theory, which proved influential in developmental psychology and other psychological disciplines. Vygotsky characterized his approach as “height psychology” (as opposed to “depth psychology”) and posited that the higher forms of mind should be the starting point for the study of human development. In his view it was essential to study psychological processes in their historical dynamics; these dynamics could be unraveled with the causal-genetic approach he developed, which involved the guided formation of mind in the course of its study or the experimental unfolding of ontogeny. Vygotsky claimed that the mechanisms of human development are not genetically determined and that we must find its source in culture and the social environment. Human development is mediated by cultural artifacts and sign systems, which are mastered in a dialogue with other people in spontaneous or guided interaction, which stimulates development by creating a zone of proximal development. The major means of the transformation of innate mind into higher mind is language, which enables us to preserve and transmit the experience of generations. In this process of cultural development the person develops a system of higher psychological functions that are social in origin, voluntary and mediated in nature, and form part of a systemic whole. The process of ontogeny goes through a series of stable periods and crises that correspond with specific conditions of the social situation of development and the developmental tasks. Age periods are completed with the development of neoformations, which do not just form results but are also prerequisites for further development. With the development of verbal thinking and the mastery of cultural means of behavior the person masters her/his innate mind and becomes a personality, whose main characteristic is freedom of behavior.


Ethics in Work and Organizational Psychology  

Joel Lefkowitz

Adequately appreciating any area of applied ethics necessarily begins with indispensable foundations from moral philosophy and moral psychology, which are the bases for understanding normative ethical principles. (Otherwise, one could be reduced to the rote memorization of a near-infinite list of “dos and don’ts.”) Personal and social values also are critical as they shape people’s conceptions of ethics and morality. (For example, what constitutes a harm or a wrong? What is the right thing to do?) Traditionally in moral philosophy there have been three ways of answering those normative questions: from deontology (determining what is permissible based on absolutist ethical principles of right and wrong); consequentialism (assessing which alternative is best because it produces the greatest good [or least harm] for all those affected); and virtue theory (being virtuous). Yet, they have all been shown to have weaknesses. For example, what happens when principles are contradictory? What counts as a good? Who determines what is a virtue? And situations sometimes lend themselves more readily to one or another approach, so prudence suggests understanding and being prepared to use all. A person experiences an ethical problem when faced with a choice that challenges one or more of their ethical principles, with potential significant impact on the well-being of others. Professionals often experience ethical dilemmas, which entail having to make uncomfortable choices—choices one would rather not have to make at all. It helps to be able to recognize the form or structure of the dilemma (e.g., contemplating a self-serving act that will harm others). What makes the situation painful is that the person is motivated to some appreciable degree to “do the right thing” (otherwise they wouldn’t be experiencing a “dilemma”). Professionals such as work and organizational psychologists (WOPs) encounter a variety of ethical challenges in the different venues in which they work—as educators, researchers, practitioners, and administrators. Recent empirical survey data concerning ethical situations experienced and reported by WOPs have become available, illustrating that variety. The process of ethics education and training ought to entail becoming familiar with one or more of the several decision-making models for facilitating ethical reasoning that are available in the professional literature.