The people we know and love the most are the same people we’re most awful to in word and deed – and vice versa.
That’s the takeaway of three decades’ worth of aggression research, distilled and published in a new review in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.
“The people who are likely to cause us harm of any sort are likely going to be people we know,” review author Deborah South Richardson, a psychology professor at Georgia Regents University, explained to The Huffington Post. “It’s not the strangers we need to fear.”
Richardson, who calls the phenomenon “everyday aggression”, has been researching interpersonal aggression since 1974. She, and other researchers like her, focus on defining aggression based on someone’s intent and not on whether an aggressive action actually ends up hurting someone. “Whether or not you actually caused harm isn’t the critical issue,” Richardson explained. “It’s that you intended to. If I aim my gun and shoot at you but miss, my intention was still aggressive.”
However, she said the field can be difficult to study because of limits to what people admit to themselves — and aloud to researchers. “One of the challenges for even defining and studying aggression is asking how you look in someone’s head to figure out what they intended to do,” Richardson said. “We ourselves aren’t always conscious of what we intend to do.”
What else is known about aggression, based on what has been studied on the topic? We highlighted a few of the other main findings from Richardson’s review:
We’re more likely to be aggressive to the people we know and love the most – not strangers. Whether that’s because we spend the most time with them, or because our relationships with them are more significant, is still unknown, Richardson said.
One of the basic types of aggression is direct aggression. This involves yelling, hitting, confrontations and hurtful actions and words. Men are more likely than women to use this kind of aggression, including sexual aggression.
The other basic type of aggression is nondirect aggression, which means hurting without a confrontation. There are two types of nondirect aggression: indirect, which is hurting someone through something or someone else, and passive, which is hurting someone by not doing something.
Examples of indirect aggression include gossip, spreading rumours or destroying someone’s favorite possession. Men and women both use indirect aggression equally, and they both use it more than direct aggression.
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