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Anger and Interpersonal Aggression View all 24 Articles. We review the literature on aggression in women with an emphasis on laboratory experimentation and hormonal and brain mechanisms. Women tend to engage in more indirect forms of aggression e. In laboratory studies, women are less aggressive than men, but provocation attenuates this difference. In the real world, women are just as likely to aggress against their romantic partner as men are, but men cause more serious physical and psychological harm.

A very small minority of women are also sexually violent. Women are susceptible to alcohol-related aggression, but this type of aggression may be limited to women high in trait aggression. Fear of being harmed is a robust inhibitor of direct aggression in women.

There are too few studies and most are underpowered to detect unique neural mechanisms associated with aggression in women. Testosterone shows the same small, positive relationship with aggression in women as in men. The role of cortisol is unclear, although some evidence suggests that women who are high in testosterone and low in cortisol show heightened aggression.

Under some circumstances, oxytocin may increase aggression by enhancing reactivity to provocation and simultaneously lowering perceptions of danger that normally inhibit many women from retaliating. There is some evidence that high levels of estradiol and progesterone are associated with low levels of aggression. We highlight that more gender-specific theory-driven hypothesis testing is needed with larger samples of women and aggression paradigms relevant to women. Rather, they respond to provocation and are active participants in aggressive interactions.

Aggression is a complex social behavior with many causes and manifestations. Over the past several decades, scholars have identified the many forms that aggression can take. Aggression can be physical e. It can be direct in nature e. Aggression can be impulsive, elicited by anger in response to provocation known as reactive or hostile aggression or it can be premeditated, less emotional, and used as a means to obtain some other end known as proactive or instrumental aggression.

Aggression that is physically extreme is referred to as violence e. Despite their apparently different surface characteristics, these instantiations of aggression all conform to the scholarly definition of aggression as behavior intended to cause harm to someone who is motivated to avoid that harm Berkowitz, ; Baron and Richardson, ; Geen, ; Anderson and Bushman, We then review data on prenatal and postnatal influences, the central nervous system, and neuroendocrine mechanisms.

Figure 1 summarizes these factors. We conclude by identifying gaps in the knowledge base, and provide suggestions for future research. Figure 1. Graphical summary of the present review of factors associated with aggression in women. The left portion displays prenatal and early developmental influences known to affect aggression. The center portion shows neural and hormonal process associated with aggression in women. The right box indicates the different forms of aggression that women engage in and their relative frequencies.

Green text indicates uncertainty regarding the robustness of the relationship with aggression in women. We note that this figure summarizes the current review only and that many additional factors do not appear here e. Indeed, aggression and violence are usually considered male problems. There is some truth to this assumption. However, women frequently engage in other forms of aggressive behavior Richardson, Research consistently reports that women use indirect aggression to an equivalent or greater extent than men Archer and Coyne, Indeed, in a large cross-cultural survey of female aggression across societies, Burbank found that female aggression was mostly indirect and rarely inflicted physical injury.

Numerous theorists have attempted to explain sex differences in aggression. Because human aggression is a complex social phenomenon elicited by multiple factors operating throughout the lifespan, one must consider how social influences interact with neurobiological mechanisms to influence aggression.

They note that sex differences in physical attributes and reproduction often make it more efficient for women to perform certain tasks and for men to perform others. Moreover, essential practices such as nursing, childcare and vegetal food production made it unlikely that women would travel far to engage in warfare Wood and Eagly, This division of labor becomes reflected in social norms and values which are transmitted via socialization practices. According to biosocial interactionist perspectives, social norms become relevant because most cultures endorse warfare as a means to gain status and because most cultures are patriarchal i.

Thus, most cultures reward men for being warriors and punish women for becoming aggressive. Indeed, social norms proscribe physical aggression in women Eagly and Steffen, and girls can vocalize these norms from an early age Crick et al. However, when women do behave aggressively and are dominant, they often face backlash against them Barber et al.

In this way, the interaction between biologically specified sex differences and sociocultural construction interact to produce lower direct aggression in women relative to men nearly everywhere in the world. Psychologists have been studying aggressive behavior with laboratory aggression paradigms since the s. The primary strength of laboratory aggression paradigms is that researchers can manipulate variables that might influence aggression while eliminating much of the complexity of the outside world.

Researchers can then quantify the observed aggressive behavior. We first review these paradigms in order to facilitate understanding of gender differences in laboratory aggression. In the TAP sometimes called the competitive reaction time task; Giancola and Zeichner, b , participants are typically provoked in some manner, often through receiving electric shocks or bursts of white noise from another participant who may be real or bogus; e.

Participants may also be provoked by receiving negative feedback on a laboratory task such as an essay or short speech, or by being ignored, rejected, or ostracized by another person Bushman and Baumeister, ; Warburton et al. Following provocation, participants are given the opportunity to retaliate against the provocateur to varying degrees, or respond non-aggressively. For the PSAP, participants ostensibly play a game against a real or bogus participant to earn points that may be exchanged for money.

In modern versions of the paradigm, during each trial participants are given the option to either steal points, defend their points, or earn points Geniole et al. Provocation is induced when the focal participant has points stolen from them by the other participant, and aggression is observed when the focal participant steals money from the other participant. As in the TAP, participants may also be provoked via insulting feedback or ostracism. In addition to the TAP and PSAP, aggression in the laboratory can also be operationalized by giving the experimenter a poor recommendation for a coveted job e.

Some researchers have criticized laboratory aggression paradigms on the grounds of poor external validity e. It is true that laboratory paradigms lack a superficial similarity to the real world i. However, several researchers have quantitatively shown that laboratory paradigms possess both strong psychological realism and external validity Anderson and Bushman, ; Giancola and Chermack, ; Giancola and Parrott, For instance, female parolees with a violent criminal history steal more points in the PSAP than non-violent parolees Cherek et al. Importantly, all laboratory aggression paradigms are consistent with the widely accepted definition of aggression as behavior intended to harm another person Anderson and Bushman, However, few studies were specifically deed to externally validate laboratory aggression paradigms with women.

To date, there have been three large scale meta-analyses of gender differences in laboratory aggression paradigms Eagly and Steffen, ; Bettencourt and Miller, ; Bettencourt and Kernahan, 1. Consistent with the social psychological Zeitgeist at the time, Eagly and Steffen favored a social learning explanation of gender differences over biological explanations. They concluded that women are less aggressive than men because social roles encourage aggression in men but not women.

A separate group of men and women coded how they would feel if they were to aggress in each study included in the meta-analysis. Relative to men coders, women coders anticipated that experiencing greater guilt, anxiety, and danger would be the consequences of aggressing. Thus, women may be less likely to aggress in the laboratory due to fear of retaliation and an unwillingness to harm others. In what still remains the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of gender differences in laboratory aggression, Bettencourt and Miller examined effect sizes from 64 experiments.

When unprovoked, women were less physically and verbally aggressive than men. However, provocation attenuated the gender difference in physical aggression and ameliorated the gender difference in verbal aggression. Bettencourt and Miller also examined whether the type of provocation would influence gender differences in aggression.

By contrast, the gender difference in aggression was reduced to zero in studies that manipulated provocation with physical attack e. Thus, women and men may be equally aggressive when faced with physical attack or an unjustified insult, at least in the laboratory.

Consistent with Eagly and Steffen , Bettencourt and Miller found that women coders anticipated greater danger than men coders were they to aggress and that men perceived the provocation as more intense than women. These perceptions subsequently predicted a greater male-biased gender difference in aggression. Thus, both meta-analyses converged on perceived danger as one putative psychological gender difference that explains lower aggression observed in women in the laboratory.

According to the theory, any aggression-related cues e. These primed associations increase aggression when provoked Carlson et al. The putative cause is that men may have a more extensively developed violence-related cognitive network than women, possibly due to gender norms that encourage male aggressiveness i. Women may behave less aggressively because female gender roles stipulate that women should not act aggressively when unprovoked. However, as in the meta-analyses, this gender difference was reduced to zero when participants were provoked.

The authors concluded that once provoked, the influence of gender roles on aggression may become less salient. Alcohol-related aggression is of interest to neuroscientists because acute and chronic alcohol use is thought to increase risk for aggression via dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex PFC; Giancola, ; Heinz et al. Alcohol is also involved in a large proportion of violent crimes. Similarly, relatively greater alcohol consumption equally predicted fighting in a young group of British men and women Wells et al.

Although the effects of alcohol on facilitating aggression in men has been an active research area, the same cannot be said for research with women. In terms of laboratory research, two meta-analyses examined the literature on alcohol-induced aggression that manipulated alcohol administration Ito et al. The mean effects of alcohol on aggression were ificant for men but not for women; however, both meta-analyses were underpowered to detect effects in women. Nonetheless, several individual experiments have examined alcohol-induced aggression in women.

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