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The Will to Fight: Aversion-Induced Aggression and the Role of Motivation in Intergroup Conflicts

Abstract

Aggressive behavior is a source of many significant human problems, most notably the catastrophic loss of life and resources that can result from violent conflicts between groups. Aggressive behavior is particularly likely to arise from aversive conditions that function as motivating operations (MOs) that establish the stimulation produced by aggressive acts as reinforcing. We describe the behavior that arises from these circumstances as aversion-induced aggression (AIA) and argue that the MOs associated with AIA are important factors in initiating and sustaining violent conflicts between groups. In support of this, we survey the basic nonhuman research that has demonstrated the aggression-motivating functions of aversive stimuli. We extend our analysis of AIA to humans and describe how the special properties of verbal stimuli serve as the basis for notable differences between AIA in humans and nonhumans. We describe how aversive conditions may be exploited by leaders to establish support for aggression against another group in the pursuit of their objectives. We suggest that conflicts between groups cannot be resolved in the long term unless the motivational conditions from which conflicts arise are alleviated. Aggression is rarely effective in this regard because it exacerbates these conditions. For this reason, we advocate against the use of aggression as a tool for resolving conflicts between groups and consider how behavior science may contribute to the development and evaluation of alternative nonviolent practices.

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Lewon, M., Houmanfar, R.A. & Hayes, L.J. The Will to Fight: Aversion-Induced Aggression and the Role of Motivation in Intergroup Conflicts. Perspect Behav Sci 42, 889–910 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-019-00221-2

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Keywords

  • Motivation
  • Motivating operations
  • Aggression
  • Intergroup conflict
  • Verbal behavior
  • Cultural behavior