Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Displacement aggression and stress

  1. Feb 12, 2018 #1
    In humans, as well as in animals, aggression occurs more often in men. Frustration produces a readiness for aggression. When the source of the frustration cannot be challenged, the aggression gets displaced onto an innocent target with violent behaviour. Displacement behaviour is associated with reduced stress levels among men but not women. Displacement aggression also lowers the level of glucocorticoids in baboons.

    Recently, I've learned that when a rat’s mother is present near her child, she can replace the release of her infant’s glucocorticoids, and thereby blunt the stress response of her infant (who would otherwise secrete these stress hormones).

    I've searched the web to find out if this is true, but I couldn't find anything. Could anybody provide me with more information regarding this research? I'd like to know whether this is actual science or pseudoscience.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 14, 2018 #2
    I think the two examples are rather different, the rat behaviour is perhaps the simplest as its likely a young rat, who is dependent on its mother would feel stressed when the mother isn't around and would be more comfortable when the mother was present. So its simply the infant is less stressed when the mother is present and this is reflected in their hormone status.
    Aggression is rather more complicated particularly in humans, there are lots of issues that can influence the effects of aggression, displaced or not, when you consider that aggression is not simply frustration, it needs a target and that the targets will be the people who we come into contact with most frequently there can be all sorts of potential consequences. The suggestion that someone is able to control their aggressive behaviour towards the cause perhaps because they are bigger, stronger or more powerful does suggest they are capable of rational thought and control. Its possible that the presence of people we are familiar with may be dis-inhibiting and may allow expression of the frustration, but this in itself may be potentially very costly, showing aggression to people you are close to is often followed by sadness and guilt, its rarely free from the risk of unpleasant consequences. I don't know the research you are referring to in terms of men's displaced aggression but I would suspect the findings result from particular context conditions. Aggression is also associated with testosterone production either increasing or decreasing levels, testosterone and corticosteroids are antagonistic to one another and their production varies even in response to single events, its simply a matter of timing. I am surprised that they say that this doesn't happen in women, I find this very unlikely, women in fact being prone to even more guilt if they behave aggressively.
    It may be that the displacement activity may be some neutral action like swearing or kicking something inanimate but I'm not sure that this really counts as displaced aggression, it doesn't have a real target.
    This is all based in science but it can be difficult to link a lot of the animal studies which are by far the most common, to human behaviour, in which cognitive appraisal systems play such a major role. Its also a problem in that hormonal responses to events can be highly variable, even in the same individual. This suggests that we can't really use hormone production, which is controlled by a wide range of issues, as a direct measure of any particular mental state. Corticosteroids are necessary for our bodies effective functioning and anything which increases the possibility that our body has to respond in some way to maintain its internal state increases its production.
  4. Feb 22, 2018 #3
    @Laroxe I've just found out that the research I was referring to was carried out by Hans Selye. I still haven't find the paper however.

    He discovered some kind of mechanical endocrine homeostasis system. For example: if you would infuse somebody with a drug that would make the blood pressure drop a little bit, the body would react to this by increasing the blood pressure with exactly the same amount, by the secretion of a hormone that would counter this. But a stressor doesn't make the body react to this with the secretion of corticosteroids per se, a rat infant could run over to his mother instead! A mother is able to blunt the stress response that would otherwise occur, just with her presence, like a human mother's hug works as some kind of anti stress. I think it's pretty amazing that running over to mommy is a way of modulating how the body would response to an external stressor, and that some physiological defects are, in a way, psychological.

    Could you elaborate a little bit more about the notion that testosterone and corticosteroids are antagonistic to one another? Do you have an example of this?
  5. Feb 22, 2018 #4
    Hi. Hans Selye is often referred to as the father of stress, most of his work was focused on the maintenance of homeostasis, the conditions within our bodies have to be maintained within very quite narrow margins for optimum health and in fact he became interested in the way our bodies respond to the various demands made upon it. He coined the term stress to describe the broad, non specific, physiological responses to demands that required adaptation. He didn't really think of stress as the same as anxiety or fear, though these could be a source of stress, it was about demands, these could be good or bad, activity demands, excessive heat or cold, infections etc, he thought the physiological response was the same. This was of course in 1936 and based on the technology of the time, in fact there are often differences in the responses and his work has been built upon, particularly in relation to psychological effects. Stress isn't a defect or a problem, its highly adaptive and may underpin most motivated behaviour, the only reason people get up in the morning is because life is a series of expectations and demands. Its only when we are faced with major stressors we are unable to control for extended periods that it becomes a problem, in fact dealing with stressors effectively can be a major source of pleasure and feelings of achievement.
    Many of the systems we use to maintain our internal state are based in the brain, and this uses two integrated messenger systems to control things, the nervous system which is fast and specific and through the hypothalamus, the endocrine system which is slower, more persistent and has much more generalized effects. I've never really been comfortable with describing cortisol as the stress hormone, its misleading, we produce cortisol all the time, following a particular pattern over the day, if we didn't we would sicken and die. If we have to deal with significant stress, we produce more, along with a number of other hormones. Their main function in this case is making more energy resources available for rapid use, it induces a catabolic state. Its release isn't always in response to stress, its actually in anticipation of increased energy needs, we produce most at the start of the day.
    Testosterone on the other hand is largely produced at night and has an anabolic action, promoting tissue building, physiologically the effects can be thought of as almost the opposite of cortisone, there is also evidence that high levels of cortisone suppress T. production.
    If you think about it the study of emotions is the clearest example of how our mind and body operates as an integrated system, we are usually aware of the effects in our bodies, that's why we call them feelings. Its pretty easy to find info on the effects of the different hormones. The effects on production are less well established but this might be interesting.

  6. Feb 23, 2018 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

  7. Feb 25, 2018 #6

    Fervent Freyja

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    But what is the cause of the frustration?

    The male probably becomes frustrated when he has no control over his environment. Making males more controlling than females.

    They should cut that crap out, because I am tired of controlling males.

    Admit it.
  8. Feb 25, 2018 #7
    I'm not really a big fan of the frustration aggression hypothesis but frustration is usually about the feeling our goals are being blocked and perhaps one of those goal is to exert control over the environment, but I expect this applies to everyone as the feeling of control reduces our stress. It may be that you are expressing feelings of frustration at being prevented from exerting the control you want and indeed you have a target, males, this would sit nicely with being a precursor to aggression. Unfortunately there are certainly more social rules applied to aggressive behaviour from women, so it is subject to more inhibition and often causes feelings of guilt.
    There are other forms of aggression from males that could be seen as an advantage for women, this is certainly true in animals. Males are usually considered the first line of defense if the group is threatened, this remains the case in human conflict, males tend to take more risks in gaining resources, these thing lead to a higher death rate throughout the lifespan and a shorter life expectancy. Despite this, most societies tend to put a lower value on male lives, generally investing more in women's health.
    Even when we look at male physical attractiveness which typically relate to health, strength, confidence and a square jawline it is in many ways the stereotypical lean, mean, fighting machine. As it tends to be the woman who makes the choice about whether to enter into a relationship, you seem to be saying that men should stop doing the very things that lead you to choose them. Or maybe not, I cut that crap out ages ago, I'm to old to care now. :)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted