Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Defining aggression and its forms

Defining Aggression and the forms it takes

Connelly (1988) states competition usually requires some sort behaviour that is intense and requires a forceful effort in order to participate, however when this forcefulness goes too far it becomes aggression. 

There are various definitions of the term aggression but one that is generally accepted within sports psychology is Baron and Richardson (1994) who state that it is “Any form of behaviour towards the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment”. Aggression is not only the conventional physical form you may think of, verbal acts can also be classified as aggressive behaviour. 

Gill (1986) identified 3 key factors for an act to be aggressive, these are:

  • The act must actually happen either physically or verbally, the act of thinking an aggressive action is not enough.
  • It must harm another person either physically or emotionally e.g. physically hitting someone with a baseball bat or emotionally by smashing a racket on the floor which causes anxiety in the other performer.
  • It must be an intentional action, sometimes this will be pre-meditated. 

Others have also suggested that it has to be outside the rules of the sport.

Types of aggression

Aggression is a broad principle with many aspects to it. Tenebaum et al (1997) state that aggressive behaviour can be classified according to the primary reinforcement sought via the act. There are 2 types of aggression both with different reinforcements behind them; these are Hostile and Instrumental aggression (Husman & Silva, 1984). The purpose of Hostile aggression is to soley harm somone (Woods, 2001) and Tenebaum et al (1997). This form of aggression is often known as “reactive aggression” as it can be spontaneous and is accompanied by anger (Woods 2001). A perfect illustration of this in sport is Roy Keane, see the BBC link then watch the video. 

The second form of aggression is Instrumental aggression. Woods (2001) & Silva, 1980) state that instrumental aggression is a means to an end. Tenebaum et al (1997) second this saying Instrumental aggression is where the major reinforcement is the achievement of a subsequent goal. This is also called channelled aggression and is not accompanied by anger (Woods, 2001) In the case of instrumental aggression, an athlete may intend to injure the opponent, but the most important goal to be achieved by the aggressive act is to win the competition, to be acknowledged by the coach etc. A sporting example would be a hard check by the enforcer in ice hockey. The action is within the rules and the player isn’t solely intending to injure the player, their actual motivation is to put them out of the game so their team has the best chance of winning.

A check in has intent to harm but the motivation behind this is not solely to cause harm but to gain an advantage.

Often acts in sport are coined as aggressive but in fact the player is actually displaying Assertive behaviour. This is defined as behaviour that involves the use of legitimate physical or verbal force to achieve ones purpose” (Silva, 1980) e.g. sledging in cricket to cause psychological discomfort for the batsman. For an act to be assertive it must be goal directed with no specific intention to harm with the use of legitimate force with no rules broken (Silva, 1980, Woods, 2001, Husman & Silva 1984, Silva 1979). Thirer, (1994) also states the distinction is that the intent, when one is being assertive, is to establish dominance rather than to harm the opponent. Any physical injuries that may occur via assertive behaviour is accidental and an unintentional by-product

 Wiggins-James et al (2006) states it is important to realise that acts of aggression may be interpreted differently depending on the nature of the sport. For example a player punching another in Tennis is unacceptable but in boxing it is a vital component of the sport. In terms of aggression necessity in sport Smith, (1983) suggested the perceived legitimacy of aggression in sport has been defined as the extent to which aggression and violence in sport are perceived to be necessary, good, or justified. 
The term aggression is commonly used in modern sports as Husman and Silva (1984), noted, such behaviour requires unusual energy and effort, which in most other social settings would appear to be aggressive behaviour. Aggression is also misused in sports commentary as it is in the wrong context because the performer may actually be showing forceful behaviour rather than aggression (Wiggins-James, 2006). 
Coaches also misuse the term as it has been noted that coaches frequently use the term aggression and encourage aggressive behaviour by their athletes without meaning behaviour that intends to harm (Connelly, 1988) what they actually mean is to be assertive. Lange and Jakubowski (1976) have also highlighted this lack of differentiation as their study indicated that some people mistake assertiveness for rudeness or even aggression.

When dealing with aggressive and assertive behaviour there is always an area of ambiguity see fig 1, Connelly (1988) notes that is always the possibility that an athlete may exhibit legal behaviour with an underlying intent to cause injury.

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