From PsychWiki - A Collaborative Psychology Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search



Any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment is referred to as “Aggression” (Baron & Richardson, 1994). This definition suggests that aggression should be viewed as a form of behavior, with this in mind behavior is very complex. Behavior involves complexities which require understanding in affect, cognition and arousal. Aggression is effected and caused by many factors. Physical discomfort may facilitate aggression; therefore uncomfortable heat will encourage aggression towards others (Baron, et al., 1994).

Studies related to external factors have been also correlated to heat. Temperature studies have been in existence since late 1800s (Bushman, Wang, Anderson, 2005). Research done previously, show correlation between rising temperature and negative affect (Anderson, et al., 1996). The theory estates the correlation between the two is associated with motives of aggression which also increase and which can predict aggressive behavior.

External determinants of aggression involve heat, noise, crowding and air pollutants (Baron, et al., 1994). Aggression depends on the behavior originating from a certain trigger. Temperature is an external source of aggression. Temperature is a non social form of encouraged aggression that does not require interaction to be caused. There are many forms of environmental determinant of aggression such as heat, noise, crowding and air.

According to Anderson (1996) temperatures has the potential to increase aggression and behavior (heat hypothesis). Bushman, Wang, and Anderson reanalyzed Cohn and Rotton (1997) and concluded on the data being fairly consistent, but not uniform in regards to the temperature and aggression (Bell, 2005). Data collected from archival sources have yielded primarily linear effect (as temperature increases so does aggression) with high temperature producing the highest level of aggression (Bushman, et al., 2005).

Example / Application - Real-life

In the book Human Aggression there is an excellent example of external determinants of aggression. Different external factors can accumulate causing an outburst like in the following story. A young couple, Diane and Bill, decided to remodel their home, without any concerns of the hassles or the length of time this would take, they were very excited at the idea. Once the remodeling initiated, the noise and the chaotic environment became part of their daily routine. As a result, attitudes towards each other became irritable and their overall behavior began to alter. Diane became irritated with the noise, the heat and air pollution that was created by the dust. Her irritation also esteemed from the crowding of all the workers and tools, which left little space to walk freely around the house. She then had an outburst causing an argument between Bill and her (Baron, et al., 1994).

The next morning at her office, in a different atmosphere and with air conditioning, she realizes her behavior was not triggered by her partner; therefore, felt awful about it. She wondered what could have caused such aggression. Her individual interpretation of the negative affect determined her behavioral response to the situation. Her aggression was attributed by external factors that involved situational cues (Baron, et al., 1994). This demonstrate that Diane’s negative affect interpretation of the situation was different that of her husband’s, because his reaction to the situation was determined differently.

Example / Application - Columbine

The day of the tragedy that took place in a cold spring day of April 20th 1999, temperature was not a factor associated with aggression in this particular incident. Using archival data, it was found that the average temperature for April in Columbine Colorado ranges from 20°F-30°F. Thus, temperature could not have caused negative affect, affected cognition or caused a form of aggressive behavior.

An alternative theoretical explanation relates to hotter temperatures which can cause a decreased aggression depending on circumstances (Bushman, et al., 2005). An article by Simister & Cooper (2005) hypothesizes that seasonal patterns are related with aggression. However, based on the Columbine tragedy, temperature was definitely not a cause for aggression.

Nevertheless, stress can be caused by different weather conditions. The weather temperature tends to fluctuate and so does behavior. Temperature facilitates aggressive behavior depending on factors of negative affect in a given situation and the level of discomfort the subject experiences as it relates to temperature. According to this article in order to cope with stress related to temperature, the human body needs stress hormones which may also have side-effects (Simister, et al, 2005). The measuring method consisted of temperature data obtained through a website and comparing average temperature with deviation temperatures. Violent crimes from FBI files and LAPD files were compared with temperature data. From this Simister, et al. (2005) concluded that their hypothesis and the evidence of data collected was consistent, making their hypothesis acceptable.

In conclusion, many reports show evidence of temperature increase causing increased behavior problems in regards to aggression. Heat related concepts as well as aggression related concepts have been studied in order to fulfill the researchers’ confusion of the correlation between aggression and temperature (DeWall & Bushman, 2009). According to Cohn, Rotton, Petterson and Tarr (2004), Violence occurs more in large cities than in small cities, which brings us to the conclusion that, although temperature is a factor in aggression there is usually more than one external element involved.


Anderson, C., Anderson, K., & Deuser, W. (1996). Examining an affective aggression framework: Weapon and temperature effects on aggressive thoughts, affect, and attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(4), 366-376. doi:10.1177/0146167296224004.

Bell, P. (2005). Reanalysis and Perspective in the Heat-Aggression Debate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(1), 71-73. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.1.71.

Bushman, B., Wang, M., & Anderson, C. (2005). Is the Curve Relating Temperature to Aggression Linear or Curvilinear? Assaults and Temperature in Minneapolis Reexamined. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(1), 62-66. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.1.62.

City-Data (n.d.) Retrieved May 11, 2010 from http://www.city-data.com/city/Columbine-Colorado.html

Cohn, E., Rotton, J., Peterson, A., & Tarr, D. (2004). Temperature, City Size, and the Southern Subculture of Violence: Support for Social Escape/Avoidance (SEA) Theory. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(8), 1652-1674. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2004.tb02792.x.

DeWall, C., & Bushman, B. (2009). Hot under the collar in a lukewarm environment: Words associated with hot temperature increase aggressive thoughts and hostile perceptions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 1045-1047. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.05.003.

Miller, M (2010) Evening Buzz: National Guard can help end Chicago’s Violence? Retrieved May 11, 2010 from http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com

Simister, J., & Cooper, C. (2005). Thermal stress in the U.S.A.: effects on violence and on employee behavior. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 21(1), 3-15. doi:10.1002/smi.1029.

◄ Back to Spring 2010 - PSY 307 page

Personal tools