Social Psychology

Antisocial Behavior


Men engage in more direct, physical aggression than women. Women tend to rely on indirect forms of aggression.

Antisocial behavior refers to behavior that is intended to cause harm or that disregards the safety and well-being of other people. Aggression involves directing hostility or violence toward another person. Psychologists have proposed various theories for why people act aggressively. The original frustration-aggression hypothesis suggested that blocked progress toward a goal creates frustration, which promotes aggressive behavior. Frustration was seen as both essential to aggressive behavior and as leading inevitably to aggression. However, researchers have argued that this is a sweeping generalization. People do not necessarily respond to frustration by being aggressive, and aggression is not necessarily the result of frustration.

Aggression has many causes. Reactive aggression can be triggered by anger or frustration. It is more likely to occur when a person is provoked, tired, overheated, or physically uncomfortable. Intoxication and impulsivity also contribute to spontaneous aggression. Instrumental (goal-directed) aggression is intended to serve a purpose, such as getting an object or controlling another person's behavior. It does not require a person to experience a negative emotion. For example, a mugger may beat someone up to steal their wallet. An abusive partner may make threats to keep their partner from going out with friends. In these cases, the aggressors are not necessarily angry—they simply want something from another person.

Men tend to be more aggressive than women. From an evolutionary perspective, human male aggression is used to display dominance over other males and protect their mate and family. Expectations of masculinity also pervade much of Western culture, including assumptions that men are prideful, protective, and tough. Such norms can influence the frequency of aggressive behavior. Men are more often involved than women in incidents of physical (direct) aggression, including violent crime. Women also engage in aggression, but it is often relational. Relational aggression tends to cause psychological or social harm rather than physical (e.g., spreading rumors or talking behind someone's back).

A common form of aggression is bullying, repeated behavior intended to cause psychological or emotional harm to another person. Research has shown that men are more likely to engage in physical bullying such as shoving or punching, whereas women are more likely to participate in verbal bullying such as gossiping. The ubiquity of social networking platforms has made cyberbullying an especially insidious form of aggression. Although cyberbullying does not occur face-to-face, bullies can still cause great harm to their targets. Cyberbullies may spread lies or circulate embarrassing videos of targets without their consent.

Bullying: Male Approach versus Female Approach

Males are more likely than females to engage in direct forms of aggression, such as fighting and shoving. Females are more likely to rely on indirect, relational forms of aggression, such as gossiping or excluding people.

Prejudice and Discrimination

People tend to have limited experiences with people from other social groups, which can lead to misperceptions. Thinking errors and biases lead to prejudice and discrimination.

Antisocial behavior toward others may be motivated by negative attitudes toward members of other groups. People define social groups according to factors such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, social class, and profession. An in-group is a group with which an individual identifies or sees themselves as belonging to. People feel a strong sense of connection to their in-groups. This can create in-group bias, a tendency to attribute positive behaviors to one's in-group and negative behaviors to out-groups. Similarly, the phenomenon of mirror-image perception occurs when a person considers the behavior of an in-group to be fair and well-intentioned but considers out-group behavior to be unfair and ill-intentioned. This occurs even when the objective behaviors are the same. For example, if two groups of people are protesting, each group may see themselves as promoting peace and the other as being violent even though each group's behavior is the same. Members of an in-group can also express out-group homogeneity, the belief that all members of an out-group are similar. In-group members may blame people outside their in-group for their frustrations or disappointments, known as the scapegoat hypothesis. For example, people struggling to find work that pays well may blame members of an out-group for taking all of the good jobs. In-group bias can lead to mistreatment of people in out-groups.

People may perceive members of out-groups as having specific personality traits, characteristics, social roles, and interests. A stereotype is a preconceived belief about people in a certain social group. Many stereotypes are harmful, such as the belief that some groups are aggressive or lazy. Even positive stereotypes, such as the idea that some groups are academically or athletically superior, are harmful. All stereotypes can influence a person's self-esteem, identity, and view of how they fit into society. Perceived differences among groups are strengthened by the fact that people often have limited experiences with members of other groups.

Prejudice is a preconceived negative attitude or belief toward a person or group that is not based on evidence or experience. When an individual holds prejudices and stereotypes about a person or group, they tend to treat the person or group according to their expectations. Discrimination is unfair treatment of people based on their social group. Discrimination can take many different forms. People may express it directly. They may refuse to hire someone from a certain group, use offensive terms, or even engage in violent acts against people from that group. Discrimination can also be more subtle, making it easier for people who engage in discriminatory behavior to deny to themselves or others that their behavior was rooted in prejudice. For example, a person walking down the street may hold their purse and phone tightly as they walk past someone from a feared group. They may assume that a young woman attending a meeting is an assistant rather than a high-ranking manager. If prejudice and discrimination are widespread enough, the entire structure of society can change. Some groups may be afforded certain privileges whereas others are not. For example, in South Africa, apartheid was a political system that divided people into distinct races and limited their freedoms based on those categories. During apartheid black people could not vote and had to carry permits authorizing them to live and work in restricted areas. The system began in 1948 and endured into the 1990s.

People who feel that prejudice and discrimination are wrong can still have biases. They may not even be fully aware of those biases. Implicit bias refers to negative attitudes, stereotypes, and behaviors toward members of a group that occur mostly outside of a person's conscious awareness. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) has been used to uncover unconscious implicit biases toward certain people or groups. On this test, people see pairs of words and images. The words may be positive (e.g., joyful or enjoy) or negative (e.g., horrific or yucky). The images will be selected to test a specific bias. For a test of racial bias, the images might be of Caucasians and African Americans. For a test of weight bias, the images would be of slender and heavy people.

For a test of weight bias, the IAT would present all possible pairings of positive/negative words and thin/heavy images. In some conditions people would be asked to press the left key if they saw either a positive word or an image of a thin person. They would press the right key if they saw either a negative word or an image of a heavy person. In other conditions, people would be asked to press the left key in response to a positive word or a heavy person. They would press the right key for a negative word or a thin person. The underlying idea is that that when people have a negative view of a group, they respond more quickly when a key indicates both negative words and the nonpreferred group. Pairing positive words with that group is less natural and so leads to longer response times. The IAT has been used in many research studies and reveals that many people appear to have biases. However, critics suggest there are many possible interpretations of results. People can show evidence of bias on the IAT yet act without bias in their everyday lives.

Implicit Association Test

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is used to assess unconscious biases toward different groups, such as overweight people, racial minorities, women, or the elderly. People with unconscious biases will respond faster in congruent than incongruent conditions.
The just-world hypothesis posits that people deserve what they get and get what they deserve. For example, people tend to believe that disadvantaged out-groups deserve their misfortunes, whereas in-groups have earned their good fortune. Despite the dynamics that can incite conflict and separation among groups, empathy and openness can reduce stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Often, people have limited contact with people from groups about which they hold negative stereotypes. This means they have few opportunities to discover that their negative beliefs are not grounded in reality. The contact hypothesis suggests that integration of different social groups can help people understand one another and recognize similarities between groups. Simple exposure is often not enough to change views. The most effective forms of contact involve personal interaction in which members of different groups work toward common goals.