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March 30, 2016
by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

Why Are We So Angry? The Recent Political Debates

March 30, 2016 08:36 by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D  [About the Author]

The recent political debates have shown a less than desirable side of the candidates. Name calling, berating comments and even attacking the other candidate’s wife has become a part of the political arena. It appears that every aspect of a politician’s life is fair game even if it affects innocent family members. The comments and behaviors have deteriorated to such a degree that supporters of the candidates are shocked and appalled. As a result, the age of dignified debating may no longer exist. With the open display of aggressiveness and anger and the lack of public emotional regulation, it causes speculation about the ability of the candidates to effectively run the country. However, aggressive behavior is not limited to the political arena. Angry behaviors have been publicly displayed by professional athletes, models and by the common civilian as well. Fist fights at sporting events, screaming matches with employees and road rage have become common events in our society. Interestingly, while the field of psychology has made gains in understanding and providing information on anger management and conflict resolution as well as building communication and social skills, our ability to manage our emotions has declined.

Observational Learning

One of the theories for the progression of aggression in society was introduced by Albert Bandura (1977). He asserted that behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning. The famous Bobo doll experiment (1961) demonstrated that children learn from watching others in their environment. Those that are being observed are considered models. Over the course of childhood, children encounter many influential models such as parents, family members, community members, peers, educators, politicians and movie stars. These people provide models of a variety of behaviors. Children pay attention to some of these people and begin to mimic their behaviors. Those adults in the child’s environment will either reward or punish the modeled behaviors.  Therefore, the theory postulates that aggression can be transmitted to children through the imitation of aggression in models. In this day and age, with the abundance of graphic crime shows there is no shortage of aggressive role models.

The Media

While there are a variety of theories as to the increasing aggression in society, there appears to be a social factor that is contributing to the problem. Wars, terrorism and a struggling economy have been offered as reasoning for the growing hostility. The 24 hour access to news programs that replay violent and aggressive acts as well as reality television may have added to the desensitization to violence. Further, the growing use of social media has afforded us to witness vicious and heinous acts within in seconds of the incidents occurring. While being an informed nation is crucial, how much is too much? Since the 1950’s there has been concern about the harmful effects of media violence on children. Much of the media content geared toward children includes violence. In fact, early childhood exposure to violence is related to aggressive behavior in both females and males in adulthood (Huesmann et al. 2003).

The U.S. Surgeon General, the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a host of other scientific and public health agencies and organizations have concluded that media violence poses a risk for harmful effects on children. The harmful effects have been grouped into 3 primary categories: (1) children’s learning of aggressive behaviors and attitudes; (2) desensitization to victims of aggressiveness; and (3) increased fear of being a victim of violence.

Given the research and the recent behaviors witnessed in the media by our future political leaders, it is apparent that the public portrayal of violence presents a problem. Unfortunately, violence will likely never be completely dissolved in our society. Further, aggression is not always negative. It can be normal and healthy as it is a part of the human nature. Aggression becomes a problem when it brings harms to others. Solutions to moderating aggression may need to be implemented on a personal level. Managing our own anger may be the first step to curbing some of the societal aggression. Ignoring aggressive behaviors in others and implementing consequences for violent actions in the environments that we influence may be useful in regulating anger. Lastly, limiting the types of television programming and social media that our children are exposed to may decrease the likelihood of aggression in adulthood.


Huesmann, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C., & Eron, L. D. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221.

Kunkel, D (2007, June) The Effects of Television Violence on Children. Hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Retrieved March 30, 2016

McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura - Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from March 30, 2016

Whitborne, S,K (2010, October), Is our Society Getting Increasingly Angry. Retrieved March 30, 2016

About the Author

Dr. Dawn Crosson Dr. Dawn Crosson, Psy.D

Dr. Dawn Gullette Crosson is a native of Philadelphia, PA and received a Master's Degree in Community Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University. She later graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine with a Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology. She is a licensed Psychologist, trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Trauma Focused CBT and has been in the field of psychology since 1996.

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Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
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