Aggression and Hatred



Aggression and Hate as Learned Behavior

There is no doubt that some aggressive and hateful behaviors result from learning. For example, social learning theory suggests that great deals of children’s behaviors are learned through modeled behaviors, observed behaviors, imitation, and possibly vicarious reinforcement (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). For example, the cycle of abuse that occurs in domestic violence is perpetuated generation to generation. A husband hits his wife and/or his children. If the wife stays with the husband, it is a tacit expression of condoning the behavior (in a child’s mind). The child does not have the emotional or psychological maturity to understand the multitude of factors that prevent a woman from leaving an abusive situation. All a child can see is that the man hits the woman and the woman allows it, often making excuses or rationalizing the behavior. This often creates a conflict for the child whereby the child both loves and hates both parents, the man for hitting the woman and the woman for allowing it. Without psychological help and treatment, often this child will grow up to repeat the same violent family patterns with their family.

In my family, I remember many instances of slamming cabinets, throwing plates and dishes, yelling and screaming. As I grew up, when I became angry, I found myself yelling and slamming cabinets, often desiring to throw things. I was fortunate to recognize this behavior as a poor method of resolving conflict. I learned to resist those angry impulses. The easiest fixes were not throwing things or slamming cabinets. The yelling and screaming took longer. My husband and I rarely argue (even after 15 years), but there are disagreements. I have to remind myself to calm down and revisit the conversation when I can remain calm and try to compromise. I am not always successful in not raising my voice, but I am happy to say that the days of irrational yelling and screaming are long gone.

Aggression and Hatred are Biological or Physiological

There is quite a bit of empirical research linking physiological causes to aggressive behaviors. Some examples included by Friedman and Schustack (2012) include aggression resulting from brain disorders or biochemical deficiencies. Wilson and Scarpa (2011) analyzed 43 independent samples in a meta-analysis regarding sensation seeking and aggression seeking to address the debate regarding empirical evidence supporting low resting heart rate (HR) as a psychophysiological correlate of aggression. Their results of 32,217 participants, 43 studies, over time span of 40 years indicated a significant effect for sensation seeking and aggression. The results of this study seem to support the physiological causation of aggression argument.

Yet another intriguing study indicates that aggressive behaviors may be the result of deficiencies in self-control arising because of low blood sugar (glucose) necessary for executive process functioning. A series of studies indicated that (1) glucose intake participants were less aggressive than the control participants; (2) low self-control correlated to diabetes; (3) states with high rates of diabetic individuals also had higher crime rates; and, (4) countries whose inhabitants had glucose processing disorders also had high killing rates (war and non-war related) (DeWall, Deckman, Gailliot, & Bushman, 2011).


Once again, the multi-factor explanation would seem to be the most accurate. It is doubtful that any one approach can explicate every instance of aggression or feeling of hatred. In this discussion, I only focused on two possibilities, of which there are many more just as plausible in varying circumstances. There are books, and likely entire courses, devoted to the topics of aggression and hatred; it is difficult to do the topic adequate justice in a simple discussion post. Overall, I would posit that the most severe limitation of any approach is singularity, as in believing there is only one possible explanation.


DeWall, C. N., Deckman, T., Gailliot, M. T., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Sweetened blood cools hot tempers: Physiological self-control and aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 37(1), 73-80.

Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Wilson, L. C., & Scarpa, A. (2011). The link between sensation seeking and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Aggressive Behavior, 37(1), 81-90.



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