||Comments by Adams Fraczek
Department of Psychology, University of Warsaw, 00-183 Warsaw, Poland
Is there anything new in the neurophysiology of aggression for social psychologists? Since my competence is limited to the field of personality and social psychology, I would prefer that ethologists and neurophysiologists take over the task of deciding whether Adams's models of offense, defense, and submission are supported by empirical data or whether they should rather be viewed as heuristic constructs. On the other hand, my lack of competence does not imply disinterest. In fact, my involvement in research in human aggression requires some orientation in new theoretical and methodological propositions evolved in various sciences. During the course of exploring new facts concerning aggression, I will, nevertheless, view them from the perspective of a social psychologist. That is also how I came to comment on Adams's models. What are the general presuppositions of Adams's models? In my opinion, two important implicit assumptions might be distinguished.
First, several specific statements reflect a tendency to treat the brain as a complex system, whose function is to integrate behavior and regulate individual/environment relations. Such an assumption is neither original nor revealing, since it has been presented in detail earlier by Seczenow and Pawlow. Luria's studies in neuropsychology were explicitly based upon this assumption; Konorski's theory is also built upon it. Still, experimental neurophysiology more or less ignored this concept. There was no attempt to develop a general model of neurophysiological mechanisms regulating behavior. The consequences are evident the gap between neurophysiology and the behavioral sciences (especially those concerned with human behavior in social interactions) is broadening In this context. Adams's proposal seems to be valuable, as an attempt to describe the brain's functions and to construe some general models of behavior on the grounds of recent findings in neurophysiology.
Secondly, the functionalism in Adams's concepts is evident. This presupposition is not new in ethology, in which theoretical constructs such as regulative mechanisms are defined in terms of their functional characteristics rather than structural elements. Such theoretical constructs are developed to explain overt behavior. Functionalism is also a familiar presupposition in contemporary social psychology. A stable, reoccuring behavioral pattern, observed during an Interaction between an individual and his physical or social environment, will serve as a basis for seeking the underlying hypothetical functional regulative "structures" or "mechanisms." Although the origin of the functionalism underlying Adams's hypothetical motivational systems and the "consociate modulator" differs from the roots of functionalism found in psychological constructs, still, the idea of a functional definition is the same.
Are the three hypothetical motivational systems and the "consociate modulator" useful in understanding human interpersonal behavior and specifically, human aggression? First of all, I shall try to point out the differences between traditional definitions and models of infra specific aggression in animals and the definition of human aggression. Natural sciences describe aggression as physical attack. Many studies have been aimed at identifying brain centers of attack, withdrawal, and escape responses. This biological model is applicable to traditional definitions of human aggression, according to which attack responses are released by anger. Fear will produce opposite behavioral effects.
The traditional model of aggression analysis developed in the natural sciences - i.e. the attack/escape model - is of limited utility in social psychology, mainly because aggressive actions in human beings are a form of interpersonal contact and it is seldom that simple aversive stimuli or basic biological needs are at their source. In interpersonal relations, aggression consists in the transgression of socially established and historically developed rules of coexistence. Hence in the human world aggression ought to be analyzed in opposition to prosocial action - i.e. actions that serve others and are beneficial to them.
Adams's conceptions are far from similar to my understanding of human aggression. Still, they are probably much closer to the model of human aggression defined as a socio-psychological phenomenon than the attack/escape model. Adams argues that the hypothetical motivational system for offense remains unexplored. Thus, the attack/escape model has yet to be neurophysiologically verified. The discovery of the defense (with elements of aggression) and submission systems with their neurophysiological bases further demonstrates the inadequacy of the traditional approach (There is also the problem of specifying aggression as a form of interpersonal behavior, which will not be discussed here).
I would also like to emphasize another aspect of Adams's models specifically, the reasons for introducing the "consociate modulator." The psychology of aggressive behavior distinguishes several such systems. For example, laboratory studies indicate that the effects of stimulation on the magnitude ot aggression depends on the need for exposure to stimulation (or level of reactivity). Such a modulator is, certainly, a fundamental one compared to the "consociate modulator," which reflects social experience. Neurophysiological processes are obviously not sufficient in explaining shifts from defensive to submissive behavior. One must assume that some system of accumulated experience is responsible for behavioral changes. We can, however, find some "modulators" at higher levels of behavioral organization. Information processing, which provides anticipations - i.e. the foreseeability of negative consequences of one's own behavior for another person - might inhibit or facilitate aggression [see Toates "Homeostasis and Drinking" BBS 2( 1) 1979]. Another group of "consociate modulators" in human aggression is connected with central elements of personality, like the self-image, beliefs concerning the world, and so forth. The level of guilt-feelings, understood as a stable personality factor, will mediate fhe relation between stimulation and aggressive responses. The above examples suggest that Adams's "consociate modulators" construed on the basis of his neurophysiological experience have also been "discovered" (or described) within the domain of psychological processes. The modulators developed during personal experience not only mediate external stimuli (like a telephone switchboard), but also generate their own power or motivation (like a turned-on nuclear reactor).
The only thing we should do now is wait for neurophysiologists to confirm and add to our knowledge concerning "central or higher level modulators" and "generators" of particular forms of social behavior.