Apter (1982, 1997) has pinpointed a number of major differences between the reversal theory approach to understanding aggressive and violent behaviour and the approach offered by other theories in the social sciences. First, reversal theory does not equate aggression and anger, unlike some other approaches (e.g. Isberg, 2000), but argues that aggression can occur both in the presence and in the absence of anger. Second, reversal theory is concerned with the immediate background of why aggression and violence occur, rather than taking the longer term perspective that other theories, dealing with evolution, genetics, subculture or upbringing, offer (e.g. Lorenz, 1966). Third, reversal theory can provide an understanding of a wide range of different types of aggressive and violent behaviour, where other theories have tended to concentrate on only one form of violent behaviour (e.g. aggression in children as a result of observation and imitation, Bandura, 1973). Fourth, reversal theory seeks multiple causes for aggressive and violent behaviour, where other theories have largely proposed single causes (e.g. drive theory, Dollard et al., 1939).
As with reversal theory explanations of other forms of human behaviour, its explanation of aggressive and violent behaviour is based on metamotivational states, metamotivational state combinations and the reversals that may occur between them. It would, therefore, be erroneous to associate forms of aggression or violence with a single metamotivational state, although some states in particular combinations may play a more influential role than others. Of all the possible metamotivational state combinations, Apter (1997) has argued that, when different forms of violence are examined, four state combinations occur most frequently. These are based on combinations of (1) the telic and paratelic states with the negativistic state, and (2) the telic and paratelic states with the mastery state, but in each case other pairs of states could also be involved. As shown in Figure 3.1, these combinations give rise to four different forms of violence: anger, thrill, power and play violence, respectively. The following sections will examine each of these forms of violence in detail.