PSY307-Cognitive Neoassociation Model

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Section 1

Berkowitz created the revised version of the original Aggressive Cue Theory into what is now known as the Cognitive Neoassociation Model. The new and improved model focuses on the emotional and cognitive processes that underlie the frustration-aggression link and on reducing the emphasis of aggressive cues. According to the Cognitive Neoassociation Model some sort of aggressive aversive stimuli or frustration instigate aggressive reactions by creating negative affect (Baron & Richardson, 2004). Included in the model is also the end result of the fight or flight response. It all depends on how the individual appraises the situation cognitively which causes the person to fight or run away. Once the individual appraises the situation and considers the feelings and actions that are appropriate for their given circumstances they are then led to explore the differentiation, intensification, suppression, or elaboration of the experience itself.

According to Berkowitz (1990), if the afflicted persons arousal level is weak, for example, they may decide at the time that they are irritated or annoyed rather than angry, this can also be true for the substitution of feelings regarding fear; it all depends on the individuals’ appraisal of the situation. It is important to note that lower levels of arousal can be presumably an indicant of a reduced concern about aggression and not a sign of a decreased inclination to aggression (Berkowitz, 1984).

According to Anderson and Bushman (2002), this theory suggests that negative influences produced by disagreeable occurrences routinely encourages various thoughts, expressive motor reactions, memories and physiological reactions linked with both fight and flight trends. These relations as a result enhance basic feelings of anger in the fight response or feelings of fear in the flight response. The aversive events producing negative affects could include frustrations, provocations, loud noises, uncomfortable temperatures, and unpleasant odors among others. Furthermore, cognitive neoassociation aggressive feelings, emotions, and behavioral predispositions are associated mutually in memory. This theory clarifies that aversive events amplify aggressive tendency through negative affect. It can be stated then that this model is particularly suited to explain hostile aggression, but the same priming and spreading activation processes are also relevant to other types of aggression (Anderson, C., &Bushman, B., 2002). The neoassociation model brings a new perspective when attempting to understand aggression. It is thought by some theorists that appraisal can and does occur automatically and outside of focal awareness (Smith &Kirby, 2004). In understanding that it is clear to see why this model was revised.

Although cognitions are not visible they do occur innately when appraising a situation, meaning that any model created previous to this one would eventually have to be revised in order to include cognition. Cognition is a very important factor to consider when attempting to comprehend aggression and everything it involves. According to Berkowitz (1988), Cognitions other than the initial appraisal can substantially influence the subsequent emotional reactions and experiences after the initial automatic response. Meaning that in the later stages of the appraisal controlled processing eventually begins to occur. People make causal attributions about their unpleasant experiences, and then they think about the exact nature of their feelings, and finally attempt to control their feelings and actions.

Section 2

There are many other real life instances that can be applied to the cognitive neoassociation model and they can range from extreme forms of aggression to much simpler forms of it. A simpler real world example of the cognitive neoassociation model can be described using children interactions like physical play outside in a schoolyard for example. For example, a child pushing another child off of a bicycle can be reacted to in different ways depending on the child’s appraisal of the situation. The first thing that occurs is the event, which produces the unpleasant experiences. The child pushing the other child off of the bicycle is the event and the unpleasant experience is the pain resulting from the fall. Immediately after, the negative feelings come into play along with the cognitions. The feelings that are produced will either lead towards having thoughts and associations of anger or thoughts and associations of fear. This is different from person to person because not everyone will appraise the situation in the same manner. If the individual has strong anger feelings than the cognitions would also be related to anger thus leading the individual to fight. On the other hand if the individual has strong feelings of fear than the resulting cognitions would make the individual flee from the situation.

Section 3

The example given in the second section applies to every part of the cognitive neoassociation model. If the child’s characteristics are more inclined to feel fear then the child will flee from the situation and not be a participant of an aggressive act. On the other hand if the child’s characteristics are more inclined to feel anger when pushed off of the bicycle than the child would in return act aggressively. The characteristics of an individual are developed as a child. The way people are taught to behave and think is reinforced daily by everyone around the person. If a person who was taught to be aggressive was pushed, they will automatically be aggressive back unless they learn how to appraise situations differently. In order to learn how to appraise a situation for what it is and what is worth an individual must be able to stop and think. This is because when an individual stops to think and assess a problem properly, they can get a glimpse of the consequences they will have to endure based on their decision to fight or flee from the situation. If the individual does not stop to reflect then they would react impulsively. Someone that is very aroused might believe that the consequences of their actions are worth their feeling satisfaction from their act of aggression and others might not, but that only happens when a person is aware of their cognitions. This model can be used in preventing any aggressive behavior. That is why this model was appropriately revised to include cognitions with aggression. It just makes sense. Like in the example, the cognitions that the child has will ultimately decide whether the child walks away or retaliates in an aggressive act.

Section 4

The killings that occurred in Columbine high school ten years ago can be examined through the Cognitive Neoassociation model. There are many different stories that were used as explanations for the boy’s inhumane actions on that day. The model can relate to this story easily but as for whether or not it could have prevented the situation is up for debate. For the boys that created this horrible day in history, the event that triggered the beginning of it all was that all the other children of schools made fun of them and treated them badly. This caused unpleasant experiences for them that led them to feel emotions related to some form of anger. As time progressed it could be assumed that the anger feelings continued to grow but according to this model it can also be assumed that their cognitions had already begun to form a long time prior to when they committed the crime. Since the end result was to fight back, in this situation (the entire school), then the cognitions were of extreme anger that resulted in an extreme form of aggression.

The other side of this situation was the innocent people and how they can be applied to the cognitive neoassociation model. The event that took place for the rest of the students, and staff was the actual shootings. The event caused unpleasant experiences raging in a variety of forms. Some experienced physical pain among other uncomfortable experiences. They then had negative feelings about what was going on at that point in time of their life. As a result of those feelings their cognitions were used to decide whether to flee or flight (flight or fight response). Most students and staff had the fearful thoughts and associations and desperately tried to escape from the mayhem, others for whatever reason they might have had decided to fight back. Maybe it was because that was just an innate characteristic of theirs or because they felt that they needed to try and help everyone else, either way they all fit into this model of aggression. In order to prevent this situation from happening an intervention would have been required to try and change the way they were thinking. They needed to view their own situation from a different perspective to reevaluate what they were going to do and to really understand if it was worth all of the negative consequences they caused. The prevention of it though, is just a lost question at this point, because we will never truly know.


Anderson, C., & Bushman, B. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1), 27-51.

Baron & Richardson (2004). Human Aggression. (2nd edition). NY: Plenum.

Berkowitz, L. (1984, May). Some effects of thoughts on anti- and prosocial influences of media events: A cognitive-neoassociation analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 410-427.

Berkowitz, L. (1988). Frustrations, appraisals, and aversively stimulated aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 14(1), 3-11.

Berkowitz, L. (1990, April). On the formation and regulation of anger and aggression: A cognitive-neoassociationistic analysis. American Psychologist, 45(4), 494-503.

Smith, C., & Kirby, L. (2004, June). Appraisal as a Pervasive Determinant of Anger. Emotion, 4(2), 133-138.

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