«UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYEES’ BEHAVIORAL REACTIONS TO AGGRESSION IN ORGANIZATIONS by MARIE S. MITCHELL B.S., George Mason University, 1993 M.A.H.R., ...»
might influence reactions to aggression. Research in the stress and aggression literatures suggests emotional and psychological reactions guide behavioral choices to aversive events. For example, Anderson and Bushman (2002) developed an integrated model of aggression, which suggests emotional reactions feed into psychological processes that form the basis of cognitive appraisals of aversive events. They argue that individuals may react immediately and instinctually to aggressive events and these immediate reactions are generally guided by experienced emotion (e.g., fear promotes flight responses, whereas anger promotes fight responses; Berkowitz, 1983). However, if resources (e.g., time, cognitive ability) are available, individuals may not react immediately. Instead, they may wait to further assess the situation (e.g., fear of retaliation, acceptance of aggression), their own psychological state (e.g., job burnout, distress), as well as whether their experienced emotions are valid. This suggests that a more elaborate process model may be necessary to understand behavioral choices and reactions to aggression.
Based on the results of both studies and the limitations and unexpected findings that emerged, I have identified a number of areas I plan to explore further in the future. Each is discussed in more detail below.
Investigating the Range of Reactions to Aggression: Multi-Dimensional Scaling Analysis One of the primary limitations to my dissertation is the issue of whether or not I captured the broad-range of behavioral reactions to perceived aggression. To address this issue, I plan to conduct a multi-dimensional scaling analysis (MDS; Kruskal & Wish, 1978). MDS is a technique that has been useful for producing inductive, but empirically derived typologies.
Essentially, MDS provides a geometric interpretation and logical translation of the coordinates of underlying cognitive structures. The resultant “map” will identify the similar and different perceptions of reactions to perceived aggression. It is my hope that MDS will produce a comprehensive classification of reactions to perceived aggression, as well as their underlying dimensions. Consequently, once the categories of reactions and underlying dimensions have been empirically identified, researchers can better explore behavioral reactions to perceived aggression.
Investigating Emotional and Psychological Mediators: A Process Model A second critical limitation to the conceptual model presented in my dissertation is the lack of non-behavioral reactions to perceived aggression. Both the aggression and stress literatures suggest that behaviors are guided by experienced emotions and psychological states.
As discussed earlier, aggression researchers argue that emotions and psychological states form the basis of behavioral choices (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Berkowitz, 1983). These arguments stem from Berkowitz’s (1983) cognitive neoassociation theory, which states that aversive events (like perceived aggression) instigates emotional reactions (e.g., fear, anger) which then triggers thoughts, memories and expressive motor reactions. Ultimately, these factors promote fight or flight reactions; fight reactions rudiment in feelings of anger, whereas flight reactions rudiment in feelings of fear. New and integrated models of aggression present a similar framework, suggesting emotions and psychological states guide decisions, which ultimately lead to a behavioral choice: whether or not to engage in aggression. Given the number of unexpected findings regarding behavioral reactions in my dissertation studies, the question of whether or not a more elaborate process model is necessary seems to be an appropriate, clear next step.
Therefore, in the future, I plan to explore the role of mediators, such as emotional and psychological reactions, to see if they influence the type of reactions individuals choose to engage in as a consequence of perceived aggression. For example, based on Berkowitz’s (1983,
1990) models of aggression, it seems likely that the experience of fear may strengthen constructive problem-solving and job withdrawal reactions, whereas it might also weaken retaliatory and displaced aggression. In contrast, experienced anger may strengthen retaliation, displaced aggression and job withdrawal, but weaken constructive problem-solving reactions.
Yet, individuals may also experience other types of emotions in reaction to perceived aggression (e.g., helplessness) that warrant further consideration as well.
Further, research in the stress literature suggests psychological reactions are also influential. For example, the experience of job burnout might weaken constructive problemsolving, retaliation, displaced aggression and task withdrawal, but might heighten job withdrawal. Organizational justice research suggests the perceptions of injustice might heighten retaliation, displaced aggression against similar targets (given the importance of social comparisons), constructive problem-solving (i.e., voice) and job withdrawal; however, it might weaken displaced aggression (particularly against unsafe and dissimilar targets to the source).
Therefore, in order to progress understanding of behavioral reactions to aggression, it is also important to understand the underlying processes that guide decisions about behavioral reactions.
Investigating Primacy of Reactions: Is There an Order Effect?
Based on the results of the studies of my dissertation, I also plan to explore the potential order effect of reactions to perceived aggression. The results of both studies suggest retaliation was a primary and dominant reaction to perceived aggression. However, retaliation might have been primary simply because other types of reactions were not measured and assessed. These other types of reactions could have been behavioral (e.g., different forms of displaced aggression, constructive problem-solving and withdrawal) or non-behavioral (e.g., emotions, psychological states). Therefore, before exploring the potential for order effects, it is first necessary to conduct the MDS analyses as well as explore potential process variables that influence reactions to perceived aggression.
My dissertation sought to identify and explore individuals’ behavioral reactions to the perceived aggression of others. Overall the results suggest fear of retaliation is a consistent moderator of reactions to aggression. Further, the results suggest retaliation may be a primary reaction to aggression. Nevertheless, the unsupported and unexpected findings draw issue with the conceptual framework of the typology and model presented. The first next step is to explore the broad-range of behavioral reactions to aggression and empirically validate my typology through multi-dimensional scaling analysis. The second clear step is to explore the “black box” of reactions to aggression. Stated differently, it is important to integrate ideas from stress and aggression models that suggest emotional and psychological reactions influence decisions about behavioral choices. Exploring the influence of these non-behavioral reactions may help broaden our understanding of what makes individuals react one way or another. Lastly, once the typology and theoretical model have been further explored, it is also necessary to investigate whether certain reactions are more primary than others, and which factors influence secondary reactions. In short, much more work is to be done to understand the types of reactions individuals engage in and which factors influence reactions to aggression.
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