PSY307-Escape-avoidance theory

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Section 1

Manipulation is not always an easy thing to do. Trying to manipulate an individual’s actions at the time of an attack is even harder. According to Dengrink and Convey (1983), escape avoidance theory in terms of retaliation aggression is “instrumental attempts to modify the behavior of another person” (p.164). Does the escape avoidance theory increase aggression? Escape or avoidance of an attack from another may negatively reinforce aggression. Through negative reinforcement, one learns to get away from conditions that are painful or unpleasant. By retaliating against someone who has attacked an individual, that individual might feel satisfaction by terminating their attacker. One might also feel satisfaction if they aggress against someone who they expect to harm and has caused the attacker to refrain from their attack. Stimulating aggression can come from something as simple as just thinking someone wishes to harm them. The individual’s thoughts can be just as harmful as their actions leading to aggression. If one thinks that another individual is going to harm them, they have most likely prepared a plan of retaliation (Baron & Richardson, 2004). Aggressive behavior can be reduced if an individual does just as what the theory states: escape and/or avoid. One can escape and avoid an aggressive situation by removing yourself from the aggressive environment before or during an aggressive act. Newman and Kosson (1986) stated that by escaping or avoiding an attack, it doesn’t allow the attacker to proceed with their aggressive behaviors. Escaping an aggressive act can eliminate the chance of one aggressing towards another individual because it doesn’t give the aggressor the chance to apply their aggressive action on another individual. Avoiding an aggressive situation can prolong the act of having to be aggressive and may lead to no aggressive behaviors in the future.

In a study done by Diaz-Berciano, de Vicente, Fontecha (2008), the effects of social dominance in dyadic relations on learned helplessness was examined by having their subjects participate in an escape/avoidance task. Ninety lab rats were isolated for 10 days before the experiment. The rats received 70 escape/avoidance training trials in a two way shuttle box that consisted of two adjacent chambers separated by a plastic barrier with an open arch. The rats would be in the shuttle box for a maximum of 10 seconds. During those 10 seconds, they would receive a tone and then a foot shock. The animals have the chance to either avoid or escape the shock. If the rat would go through the arch to the other chamber the tone would be interrupted and they would not receive any shocks. The shock would also be interrupted if they would cross over to the other chamber while the shock was being administered. The results indicated that active subjects showed usual learned helplessness responses such as not being able to escape, coping with the shocks they were not able to escape due to their decreased locomotion and reduced anxiety measures. The passive subjects were more unwilling to accept the effects of learned helplessness. Social dominance, which is group conflict that consists of oppressive behaviors, is shown to be objective to enduring aggression such as the shock being administered.

In another study done by Cohn, Rotton, Peterson and Tarr (2004), provided support for the escape avoidance theory in a community. Temperature and city size were examined to see if there was a correlation between violence and aggression. Cohn et al. stated that an individual would try to escape from any situation that may cause negative effects which may lead them to avoid situations that an individual views as a threat to themselves. They found that temperature causes negative effects upon individuals. Individuals try to escape/avoid temperature that causes them to feel some sort of aggression. For example Cohn et al. found that individuals are most likely to avoid public places on cold days and very hot days. When it is extremely hot or cold, people prefer to stay indoors where they at a comfortable temperature. Temperature is a big factor in aggression. By avoiding uncomfortable weather causing one to be aggressive, they are successful in the escape avoidance theory.

Section 2 and 3

Imagine entering a liquor store in the middle of the night for some coffee to stay awake. As you’re pouring your coffee into the cup a very suspicious man wearing all black and has his hand in his coat comes into the store. You immediately feel uncomfortable and unsafe. You try not to make it obvious that you are feeling discomfort to not cause a scene. When you get to the register to pay for your coffee, he stands right next to you still looking suspicious and still having one hand in his coat. Nervously you look over too see what he is purchasing and notice it’s just a piece of gum. You think to yourself “why would someone get out of their car in the middle of the night to purchase gum?” You begin panicking and thinking that he is either going to rob the liquor store or harm you or perhaps both. He then pulls out a gun and threatens the clerk to open the cash register while having his eyes on you the whole time.

Using a gun to threaten people is automatically considered aggression. The individual with a gun has a goal and feels the need to use a weapon that can physically harm someone to achieve their goal. His intentions are to harm someone if it is necessary to reach their goal which clearly involves aggressive behavior. There are many ways to go about this situation. Are you going to suppress aggression towards the man with the gun or are you going to give into that feeling and aggress towards them? A person can either be aggressive to the gun man and risk their lives, avoid or escape the situation. This aggressive act can cause your aggression to build up and defend your well being as well as others inside the store which may lead to more aggressive behavior.

In the escape avoidance theory, you are suggested to modify the behavior of the attacker, in this case it is the man who is threatening people with a gun. One can modify the gunman’s motives by offering something that the aggressor would benefit from such as money. Since the gunman’s objective was to get the money from the cashier, by giving him money it will eliminate the chance that the gunman will follow through with his aggressive act of physically harming someone. You can also modify his behavior by doing something that would make him feel inferior to you. For example, say you somehow restrain him and he loses his gun which is the object that gives him authority. He immediately loses control of the situation and is no longer able to execute his aggressive act.

One can reduce aggression by escaping or avoiding the aggressive situation. The moment you start to feel that someone might do something aggressive, you formulate a plan that will minimize that chance of you being harmed. Given the example, you could have avoided the aggressive act from the gunman by distracting the gunman somehow while the clerk prepared himself for any harm. Hopefully by being distracted, it would change the gunman’s plans and he would not be able to perform his aggressive behavior to reach his goal. You can also escape the situation. The moment you felt uncomfortable being in a liquor store with a man that looked suspicious, you could have dropped what you were doing and escaped the store. This will allow you to alter the gunman’s behavior by not allowing him to threaten you.

Section 4

In the case of the Columbine shootings in 1999, many innocent lives were taken by two aggressive adolescent males. The escape avoidance theory cannot explain the aggressive action taken by these young men. The only people that could have altered these two young males’ aggressive and violent behavior were the police officers because they are at the same or at a higher level of authority due to their armed weapons. However, the police officers who used weapons or physical force against the attackers added to the aggressive situation instead of eliminating any type of aggressive behavior. The aggressive behavior taken upon these two young men could have been avoided if their actions before this tragic incident were watched. The website created by them expressing their hatred towards society and interests in explosives and weapons could have been something their parents could have helped them with. Their parents could have supervised them more and taken steps in getting them help for their suicidal and aggressive thoughts they expressed in their website. Perhaps receiving the attention they wanted from their parents could have avoided the shootings. The students and teachers involved in this violent crime could have escaped and avoided as much harm upon them. Just like the day of the event, many people avoided the rooms in which they were shooting and many people escaped after being wounded to avoid any further aggression. It is unfortunate that these two young men got away with harming many young lives, but from this experience and any other aggressive experience, one must learn from them and not repeat these mistakes.


Baron, R. A., & Richardson, D. R. (2004). Human Aggression. (2nd edition). NY: Plenum.

Cohn, E., Rotton, J., Peterson, A., & Tarr, D. (2004). Temperature, city size, and the southern subculture of violence: support for social escape/avoidance theory. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(8), 1652-1674.

Dengerick, H. A., & Covey, M. K. (1983). Implications of an escape-avoidance theory of aggressive responses to attack. Aggression: Therotical and empirical reviews, 1, 163-188.

Diaz-Berciano, C., de Vicente, F., Fontecha, E. (2008). Modulating effects in learned helplessness of dyadic dominance-submission relations. Aggressive Behavior, 34, 273-281.

Newman J.P. & Kosson D.S. (1986). Passive avoidance learning in psychopathic and nonpsychopathic offenders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 252-256.

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