Outline and evaluate or discuss the ethological explanation of aggression.
The ethological explanation of aggression for the unit 3 Aggression topic for AQA A level psychology is covered below. This provides you with enough theory (ao1) for a possible essay question on this topic. If you wish to get the full A* model essay answer with the evaluation on the ethological explanation of aggression as well as every other possible essay question you can be asked on this topic for AQA psychology, you can download my unit 3 aggression ebook by clicking the image on the right. This provides you with model essay answers for every single possible essay saving you literally months of having to source your own information from scratch. Ready made model essay answers to use for the exams.
Fixed Action Patterns
The ethological explanation of aggression proposes that all members of one species have a repertoire of stereotyped behaviours which are innate and do not require learning and occur within specific conditions when triggered by a sign stimulus. Niko Tinbergen named these behaviours “fixed action patterns” (FAPs) and they are produced by a neural mechanisms known as an innate releasing mechanism (IRM). The IRM receives input from sensory recognition circuits which are stimulated by the sign stimulus. The IRM then communicates with motor control circuits to activate the FAP associated with that sign stimulus. Tinbergan studied stickleback fishes and demonstrated how they produced a fixed sequence of aggressive behaviours when another male stickleback fish entered its territory. The sign stimulus in this case was the red underbelly of the male stickleback and if this was covered, they were not attacked. The fact that all male stickleback engaged in this behaviour suggests it is invariant and a strong argument for the behaviour being biologically determined (nature). This behaviour is also believed to be adaptive as it increases evolutionary fitness by warding off other males from their nest while remaining inviting for female stickleback fish who do not have a red underbelly. Applying this to humans it is argued that aggression may also be an adaptive response to increase fitness if it is a fixed action pattern of behaviour.
Other explanations of aggression have looked at ritualistic aggression seen in animals in the form of threat displays. These displays of aggression help the animals involved determine their own strength as well as their opponents to help them decide whether to escalate into physical combat. This helps animals make costly and dangerous physical violence less likely to occur as they can better assess the outcome and motivation of the other animal. Gorillas for example use a variety of threat displays such as hooting and chest pounding to intimidate opponents in an attempt to make them back down.
Applying this to humans Gardner and Heider (1968) found evidence to suggest ritualised patterns of intergroup aggression occurred within the Dani tribe in New Guinea. Fox (1978) found similar evidence of ritualised fighting and threat displays among men of the Gaelic-speaking Tory island off the coast of Ireland.
Lorenz (1952) also believed some species developed instinctive inhibitions that prevent them using their evolved weapons against members of their own species. For example wolves have powerful jaws and strong teeth and if a wolf that is losing submissively exposes its neck to its adversary these inhibitions kick in preventing the dominant animal from continuing the fight and potentially killing the weaker animal. Non-hunting species have no powerful weapons and Lorenz proposed they would not have developed these mechanisms to control inhibition and prevent hurting their own species. For example humans do not have natural weapons and have not developed any strong instinctive inhibitions from killing other humans.
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