Justification of Emotional and Instrumental Aggression in Hong Kong and Spanish University Students

J. Martin Ramirez1, *, Annis Lai-chu Fung2, Jesus M. Alvarado3, Luis Millana1
1 Psychobiology Department & Institute for Biofunctional Studies, Universidad Complutense Madrid
2 Department of Applied Social Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong
3 Department of Methodology of Behavioral Sciences & Institute for Biofunctional Studies, Universidad Complutense Madrid

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© 2011 Ramírez et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Psychobiology Department & Institute for Biofunctional Studies, Universidad Complutense Madrid; Tel: 34 918 444 695; Fax: 34 913 943 069; E-mail:


This study reports the degrees of approval for different aggressive acts in a number of instrumental and emotional situations. A nationally-adapted version of the Lagerspetz and Westman questionnaire [1] was administered to 332 university students of both sexes in Spain and Hong Kong. Respondents had to indicate levels of justification of several aggressive acts of different quality and intensity in the context of different social justifications. Our results replicated the general findings of previous research in other cultures: in both samples, more drastic forms of aggression (e.g., killing, torture) were less accepted than non-dangerous forms of such behavior (e.g., hindering, being ironic); aggressive acts more socially justified (in terms of protection of self or other) were clearly more accepted than others with no such justification (problems of communication); and instrumental-motivated aggression was higher justified than emotional-motivated aggression. Some differences in the level of acceptance according to the sex of the participants were found: women were more prone to a higher acceptance of acts and situations more related to emotion. Although both sexes justified aggression in a higher degree for instrumentally motivated situations than for emotional ones, males showed a higher acceptance than females for instrumental situations and a lower one than females for emotional ones. There were also some minor culturally bound differences in these attitudes: Spaniards accepted less than HK students aggression in emotional situations, specially for the cases of punishment and lack of communication, but more emotional acts, such as rage and shouting. Thus, patterns of moral approval of various kinds of aggressive acts are in a large part common to both cultures. Findings also confirmed a two-factor solution and the respective predictive power of justifications for aggression in instrumental vs. emotional motivated situations. The reliability and validity of this brief self-report have been further established by the present study, paving the way for future studies to measure instrumental and emotional aggression.

Keywords: Aggression, Hong Kong, Spain, attitudes.