Aggression: A2 “Topics in Psychology” – report from the Department of Mental Health

A2 Psychology: Aggression

Students studying “aggression” as one of their 3 “topics in Psychology” (A2 Psychology, Unit 3, AQA A) will come across research into the influence of the environment (social psychological explanations), biology and evolution on violent behaviour. A recent report published by the Department of Health could provide an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and gain an insight into the relationship between science and social policy and practice (How science works, L; “Appreciate the ways in which society uses science to inform decision making”; AQA specification A) .

Report from the Department of Health (October 2012)

Thanks to blogger The Mental Elf, rather than read the whole report students can review 10 key summary points (in the post “A public health approach to violence prevention: new report from the Department of Health”) and discuss these with reference to the knowledge they have gained in their study of aggression.

University style seminar

The report summary could be used as the basis for a small group seminar-style discussion activity where students read the preparation material before-hand, bring notes they have made and then contribute to a small group discussion as they might at university. Dividing a lesson into 2 parts and asking half the class to come at the start and the rest halfway will increase participation if your groups are large. Alternatively ask students to write a response to the report or the summary post using their knowledge (this might be agreeing, disagreeing or commenting on the assumptions being made about violence).

Applying knowledge

“Much like many infections, violence is contagious.”

The quote above (taken from the summary of 10 key points; The Mental Elf) suggests that those who are exposed to violence in childhood may be more likely to be violent themselves in later life. As the report focuses on ways to prevent violence in society the implication of this is that early intervention in families where aggression is present may help to stop the violence being “passed on”. A2 students could discuss this in terms of why early exposure might leave those exposed more likely to be violent, drawing on nature-nurture debates about behaviour and the different approaches they have learned about (e.g. Social Learning versus and inherited vulnerability if the exposure is within the family). Discussion on this issue, however, is also likely to lead students to identify a range of influences on aggressive behaviour which are not necessarily covered by the explanations in the specification, enabling them to develop criticisms that the explanations are narrow in their focus. Applying knowledge often helps students to contextualise criticisms as they may be less likely to offer empty comments such as “there are other factors involved” and instead suggest what these “other factors” might be and why overlooking them is costly to the explanation in hand.


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