Felson, Richard B. Aggression as Impression Management; Social Psychology, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Sep., 1978) 205-213
This paper suggests six propositions from impression management theory to account for interpretational aggression where there is no material gain, and reviews evidence supporting these propositions. This approach suggests that initial attacks are often inadvertent and that retaliation may be an attempt to reinstate a fravorable situational identity when on has been attacked. The approach is particularly useful in: (1) explaining why perceived intentional attack elicits aggression; (2) recognizing the importance of role relationship for interpersonal aggression; (3) handling the processual nature of aggressive encounters; and (4) clarifying the relationship between interpersonal conflict and aggression.
In other words, the tendency toward aggression as a display of hierarchical competition within a pack of humans.
Aggression as a reaction to intolerant expression.
Frustration-aggression hypothesis: an aggressive response reaction to oppression.
Social Learning theory: Dissonance is reduced when one decides to no longer compete for the top position and accepts a comfortable medium between humiliation from association to the lower order and oppression from the upper order.
Symbolic Interactionism: behavior performed in private may reflect concern for the reaction of an internalized audience (see Mead, 1934, on the "generalized other").
Persons tend to behave in ways that are consistent with internalized values or identities.
Impression management theory: focuses on external audiences and public behavior.
A person's behavior is a function of the behavior and values of an audience.
A participant has two relevant (external) audiences: the antagonist(s) and third-party onlookers.
The audience may altercast ego into a situational identity or, by revealing its values, may indicate how a favorable situational identity might be achieved.
Public behavior and information revealed to audiences tend to reflect more favorably on self than do provate behavior and information concealed.
Situational Identity Theory ( "Reputation" )
Proposition 1. Altercasting a person into a negative situational identity tends to result in retaliation, when the target perceives the behavior as illegitimate and intentional.
Proposition 2. Conditions or events that negate the sutuational identity imputed by an unanswered attack make retaliation less likely.
Proposition 3. Persons will alter their aggresive behavior in order to be consistent with the perceived values of the third party audience.
Proposition 4. Ego is more likely to retaliate against alter if a third party observes alter's attack on him.
Proposition 5. Ego will tend to conceal evidence of having lost an aggressive encounter and will tend to reveal evidence of having participated or won.
Sermat (1964) found that subjects made more uncooperative, harmful choices in a competitive game when they thought their uncooperative opponents were being informed of their choices.
Proposition 6. The greater a person's concern for identity, the more likely he is to alter his aggressive behavior in order to attain a favorable situational identity or avoid a negative situational identity.
An anonymous reviewer has suggested that persons may differ in the extent to which they are willing to risk negative responses in order to obtain positive ones. (i.e. risking reputation for an extraordinary financial reward)
Proposition 6 has at least two implications:
1. For some persons , performance in aggresive encounters may assume particular significance for selff. Aggression may be more likely to occur and escalate because these persons have more at stake in these encounters. This may partly explain the greater propensity of persons of lower socioeconomic status to engage in violence. Achievement in aggressive encounters may be more important for them since they have fewer activities upon which a positive identity can be based.
2. Self-consciousness in a situation should make the implications of one's behavior for self more salient, and thereby increase the extent to which behavior is consistent with these identities. Studies of the effect of objective self-awareness on aggression shows that the presence of a mirror inhibits the delivery of shock to felames (presumably an inappropriate behavior) but increases shock delivery to makes when it is emphasized that shock is helpful to learning. (Scheier at al., 1974; Carver, 1974). These studies suggest that aggression may also reflect concern for an internalized audience.
Subjects interpret the presence of weapons in an experimenter's office as information about his values, and that this increases subjects aggression when they are concerned with being evaluated. (Page and Scheidt, 1971l; Turner and Simmons, 1974).
At least four types of conditions or events may make retaliation less likely:
(1). The attack lacks credibility due to the situational identity of the aggressor. (If the attacker stumbles over his words, or is a small child, retaliation is less likely.)
(2). The aggressor apologizes for the slight, even if the target questions the aggressor's sincerety.
(3). A third party intervenes and retaliates on one's behalf.
(4). A third party intervenes in the role of mediator.
Much of human behavior is designed to obtain favorable reactions from an audience. Persons are aware that they are being categorized or typified by others in a situation and they seek to make these categorizations or "situational identities" (Weinstein, 1969) favorable.
Aggression that is not attached to material gain, or may even be materially costly.
1. Given that people mayt disapprove of others and their actions, and given that others expect to be treated with respect, an inherent source of conflict is produced. Disapproval, when expressed honestly to others, may be taken as offensive by those others, whether or not the offense is intended.
Perceiving verbal and physical attacks as intentional, rather than experiencing failure at task, leads subjects to harm others.
Research with children in natural settings also suggests that it is hostile actions that elicit aggression.
Studies of homicides and assaults indicate that such encounters are instigated by an insult from one of the participants.
Two reasons why an insult is likely to result in a counterattack:
1. an insult releases the target from the obligation to be polite toward the person who has attacked him.
2. an insult "altercasts" or places the target into an unfavorable situational identity (Weinstein and Deitchberger, 1963) by making the person appear weak, incompetent, and cowardly. A successful counterattack is one effective way of nullifying the imputed negative identity by showing one's strength, competence, and courage.
An attack on on self initiates a conflict in which participants may attempt to harm their opponents in their competition for favorable situational identities.
Counterattack is not the only response to an attack.
If the target perceives the insult as legitimate or justified, another response is to accept the imputed identity and perhaps apologize. (i.e. constructive criticism)
If the target perceives the material costs as too high, he may "back down" and perhaps achieve some satisfaction with a fantasy about retaliation.
Under certain conditions, retaliation may be viewed as vindictive or vengeful, and thus elicit a negative reaction, in which case "playing it cool", or "turning the other cheek" may be effective.
Variations in the Salience of Identity and Aggression:
The importance of identity varies across persons and situations. Persons who are concerned with the audience's reaction because, for example, they are unsure of themselves or are dependent on the audience for rewards (see Jones, 1964, on ingratiation), are more likely to alter their behavior to make it more acceptable to an audience
The goal is to determine the intentions of debate or argument. Are the arguments or debates that take place on television, an extention of a conflict that is based entirely on aggression between two perceived opinion leaders?
Why are some debates such as Abortion and Gay Marriage perceived as more important than the personal well-being of the public? Are these types of debate chosen because