Aggression is any behaviour intended to cause harm to another person. That harm can be physical, emotional or psychological. Hostile aggression is behaviour motivated by an overwhelming sense of frustration. Instrumental aggression is behaviour used in a deliberate attempt to achieve a goal.

Since hostile aggression is emotion-based, probably the most common example would be striking out at someone impulsively. They’ve been pushing your buttons or standing in your way of achieving an important goal and you’ve finally had enough. They say that one more thing and you snap. Most instances of road rage fall into the category of hostile aggression. Same with some of the Black Friday violence you see in stores every year.

Instrumental aggression is more aligned with bullying behaviours where threats, mocking, intimidation and violence are used by the bully to instil a sense of fear and/or embarrassment in their victim. Violent crimes are another example. Someone sticks a gun in your face and demands your wallet. They’re using aggression as a tool to get what they want. In this case, the contents of your wallet.

An important distinction between hostile and instrumental aggression is that instrumental aggression is learned behaviour, where hostile aggression is impulsive and primal. In the majority of situations, neither is an ideal response or solution to your problem.


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