Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Effects of Sense of Control on Aggression among Low-Status Chinese Undergraduate Students

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Effects of Sense of Control on Aggression among Low-Status Chinese Undergraduate Students

Article excerpt

Aggression is defined as any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). In most societies, low-status people have less access than high-status people do to resources such as income, wealth, and educational attainment (Côté, 2011). Having a lower status is a significant social factor that can lead to increased aggression, for example, aggression increases when people are in difficult financial situations (McFarlin, Fals-Stewart, Major, & Justice, 2001). In addition, in an event-related potential study aimed at providing information regarding the temporal domains involved in different stages of processing, Wang et al. (2012) demonstrated that low-status participants displayed smaller P3 amplitudes in response to violent images, which indicates that they had higher levels of aggression (Gerstle, Mathias, & Stanford, 1998).

However, the results reported in a recent body of research (see, e.g., Conway, Irannejad, and Giannopoulos, 2005) support another point of view, that is, that lower-status persons are generally perceived to be less aggressive. This is likely because they do not control the degree of resources that allow for aggression and fear possible retaliation from others if they were to behave aggressively (Conway et al., 2005). Moreover, aggressive individuals have been found to enjoy the benefits associated with being seen as having a high status, such as perceived popularity and power (Vaillancourt & Hymel, 2006).

Given the inconsistent results obtained in prior research on the relationship between low status and aggression, it is possible that there may be other factors that are instrumental. Sense of control has the potential to be one such factor because it has been demonstrated to have links with aggression (Tedeschi & Felson, 1994).

In social interaction theory, aggression is portrayed as a coercive tool that one uses to control others' behavior (Tedeschi & Felson, 1994). Other theorists have indicated that individuals may behave aggressively to restore a sense of power or gain control over others (Frieze & Boneva, 2001). Therefore, aggression may be used in an attempt to restore a lost sense of control. Warburton, Williams, and Cairns (2006) showed that ostracized participants who experienced further loss of control behaved more aggressively, whereas those who experienced restored control were no more aggressive than were participants who were not ostracized. In addition, Liu and Chen (2014) reported that participants were less aggressive if they had certainty about and predictive control over their life experiences.

Given the links between control and aggression, we hypothesized that the extent to which low-status individuals display aggressive behavior may be partly determined by their level of perceived personal control. In Study 1, we tested our hypothesis using measures of sense of control and trait aggression. In Study 2, we used experimental methods to manipulate participants' perceptions of predictive control, then examined the effect of this form of control on aggression among low-status individuals. We predicted that low-status participants who experienced a lower (vs. higher) level of personal control would have a stronger (vs. weaker) urge to behave aggressively.

Study 1


Participants. We recruited 195 participants (39 men and 156 women; age range = 18-25 years) from a university in China, and paid them 10 (approximately US$1.50) to take part in the study.

In China, due to historical, economic, political, and social factors, individuals from the countryside or rural areas are, compared to urban dwellers, in a relatively disadvantaged position in several domains of life, including healthcare, housing, education, employment, and social welfare (Feng, 2008). Thus, people from the rural areas of China are regarded as a low-status group and those from urban areas are regarded as a high-status group (Xiang & Zhao, 2012). …

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