Aggression, Altruism, and
Charlotte J. Patterson
University of Virginia
By virtue of our lives as human beings, we are all familiar with both aggression and altruism. We have all probably puzzled over the emergence of both these tendencies in the behavior of others, and perhaps even in our own behavior as well. Why do people do the things that we call altruistic or aggressive, and how does the possibility of doing them emerge in the course of development?
Within the confines of this chapter, it would not be possible either to present an exhaustive review of research findings or to provide definitive answers to the questions we have just posed. Many more extensive and detailed reviews of recent research, from a variety of perspectives, are available elsewhere (e.g., Bandura, 1973, 1977; Baron, 1977; Berkowitz, 1962; Hartup & DeWit, 1974; Mussen & Eisenberg-Berg, 1977; Parke & Slaby, 1983; Radke-Yarrow, Zahn‐ Waxler & Chapman, 1983; Rushton & Sorrentino, 1981; Staub, 1978, 1979). The questions themselves have been of interest to thoughtful people, in one form or another, at least since the days of Plato, and much of the history of Western philosophy can be read as an attempt either to answer or to avoid them (see, for example, MacIntyre, 1966; and compare Cavell, 1976, 1979). The aims of this chapter, then, are more circumscribed.
This chapter presents an approach to conceptualizing both the possibility of, and the actual emergence and development of, altruistic and aggressive behavior during childhood. I shall argue that the behaviors we label as aggressive or altruistic are cases of intentional action that are best seen in the broad context of human efforts to achieve self-regulation. I then use this general approach as a framework within which to review illustrative evidence on the development of