The Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire consists of twenty-nine statements designed to assess four factors: physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, and hostility. It is a self-scoring test, and subjects are asked to evaluate themselves according to the degree to which they agree with the statements. The questionnaire uses a five point scale, with one point indicating a statement is “extremely uncharacteristic” and five points indicating “extremely characteristic.” A score of three on any statement is considered neutral. Two statements are reverse scored; “5” on either or both statements indicates a lower level of aggression.
For the purpose of this study, four family members and four randomly selected individuals evaluated themselves according to the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire. All the names have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.
Don, age fifty-two, is a real estate attorney who enjoys sailing in his spare time. His wife Betty, forty-nine, is a real estate agent who plays golf and tennis regularly at the local country club. They have been married for eleven years; it is the second marriage for both. Betty has two daughters, Jane and Nora, who are nineteen and twenty-one, respectively. They are away at college most of the year but live with Don and Betty during the summer and semester breaks.
Research demonstrates that women show greater inhibition than men in social contexts (Archer and Webb, 2006, p. 465). In the case of Don and Betty, the generalization does not hold true. Don’s score on the aggression scale was 42. He answered “extremely uncharacteristic of me” for almost every statement and five points for each of the statements that are reverse scored. No one would be surprised at Don’s score. He is a large man, almost six feet five inches tall, and known as the “Gentle Giant.” It would be difficult to find anyone who has seen Don irritable, much less angry.
By contrast, Betty scored 67 on the aggression scale; some would say that Betty underestimated her tendencies to lose her temper and be confrontational. These qualities have been an issue in her marriage to Don, and Betty has tried to be, as Don says, “more laid back.” People who know the couple often cite the adage “opposites attract.” Don is soft-spoken and shy, while Betty enjoys being the center of attention and is known for having strong opinions.
Competitiveness is a variable that has been linked to aggression (Archer and Webb, 2006, p. 465). This finding is consistent with the scores on the aggression scale of Betty and her daughters. Betty is extremely competitive in the work place. The real estate market is tough, and Betty believes she needs to be aggressive to be successful. Betty is known to be fiercely competitive on the tennis court and on the golf course, even though she insists she plays both games to relax and to network for business. Betty’s daughters are also athletes. Jane plays tennis at her university, and Nora is a swimmer. As well, both girls are excellent students with strong academic records. They are as competitive as their mother. Their scores were higher than Betty’s, by fifteen points (Jane) and twenty-two points (Nora). The girls consider their assertiveness and competitiveness to be assets in academics and sports. They consider it a compliment when people tell them they are very much like their mother. Betty, Jane and Nora would characterize themselves as strong-willed and forthright. They admit to being competitive but they do not like the word “aggressive” and they do not believe it applies to them.
Four unrelated individuals were also asked to take the questionnaire. This writer approached four students in the library at different times and asked if they would take a few minutes for the self-assessment. The individuals, two male and two female, were chosen at random and were not known to the writer before they agreed to complete the assessment. Three people were approached and declined to complete the assessment.
Rick, a tall, handsome man with dreadlocks, scored the lowest on the test, with a score of 51. Somewhat surprisingly, he gave himself five points in agreeing with the statement “I am sometimes eaten up with jealousy.” Rick was cheerful and friendly and with his good looks it is hard to believe he would feel jealous of anyone. He also scored five points in agreeing with the statement “I sometimes feel that people are laughing at me behind my back.” The scores on these items indicate Rick has a higher than expected level of hostility. It also suggests he is more insecure than one would suppose.
Kathy, a petite blonde, also scored 51 on the questionnaire. She admitted that she has been angry enough to break things and also admitted she will resort to violence to protect her rights. Perhaps because of her size, Kathy feels she needs to show physical aggression in order to be taken seriously. She may feel her size and her feminine appearance make her seem too vulnerable.
Sarah, a studious-looking redhead, scored 53 on the questionnaire. Like Rick, she also felt that people were laughing at her behind her back. She also noted that “other people always seem to get the breaks” and that she has gotten a “raw deal” in life, scoring five points for each of these items. She scored four points for feeling “so bitter about things.” These questions are all indicators of hostility and suggest that Sarah does not feel good about herself. She seemed cheerful and friendly when discussing the questionnaire, so her answers were surprising. One would not guess in casual conversation with Sarah that she harbored these feelings.
George, a short, stocky man in a football jersey, scored 84 on the questionnaire. Although he denied ever hitting anyone and scored one point with the statement “I can think of no good reason for ever hitting a person,” his other answers indicated he has a tremendous amount of anger and frequently displays verbal aggression. Although George was friendly in conversation before and after the questionnaire, he seemed to be very high-strung. He chewed gum very fast and was always tapping his fingers or his feet and shifting in his seat. He seemed to have considerable excess energy. One wonders if he could control his aggression so that he was not physical. It did not seem he was entirely honest in his self-assessment.
Archer, J., and Webb, I.A. (2006). The relation between scores on the Buss-Perry aggression questionnaire and aggressive acts, impulsiveness, competitiveness, dominance, and sexual jealousy. Aggressive Behavior 32, pp. 464-473.
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