PSY307-Displaced Aggression

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One of the most known types of aggression is displaced aggression. Displaced aggression is defined as “instances in which individuals aggress against persons other than their frustraters” (Baron and Richardson, 1994). Displaced aggression is when someone frustrates you, and you can not aggress the person who made you frustrated because that person may have more power then you. Therefore, you displace your aggression toward an innocent third party who may be less powerful then you. Sometimes, the innocent third party may resemble the provocateur in several aspects such as gender or name. Provocation, frustration, stress, and anger are all related to displace aggression.

According to Denson, Miller and Pedersen (2006), we may be able to reduce displaced aggression by focusing “on the interventions aimed at preventing marital aggression [and also work on] specific cognitive strategies [to reduce] the priming effects of angry rumination and revenge planning.” If we learn to better deal with things in life we may be able to reduce our aggression.


One of the most common examples of displaced aggression is when a man is being criticized by his supervisor and he can not do anything to fight back because “he fears losing his job” (Hoobler and Brass 2006; Marcus-Newhall, Pedersen, Carlson, and Miller, 2000). Therefore, when he goes home he insults his wife for no reason at all. In this example, the man has been provoked by his boss, maybe because the boss doesn’t like how the man does his work, or maybe the boss doesn’t like the man. Therefore, the supervisor finds any excuse to insult against the worker.

An example of an insult is when the supervisor tells the worker that “his thoughts or feelings are stupid, or putting the [worker] down in front of others” (Hoobler and Brass, 2006). Basically, the worker feels like he can not do anything to fight back because the supervisor has more power in the company then the worker. If the worker decides to take action against the supervisor, then there is a chance that he could get fired. Therefore, the worker can not do anything, but since he may be angry at the supervisor, when the worker arrives home he displaced his anger to his wife or to any other innocent person. When he displace his anger, he becomes aggressive to the wife or to any significant others. If the provocation is high, then the aggression that is being displaced becomes high too.


According to Denso, Miller, and Pederson (2006), “displaced aggression occurs when a person is provoked, is unwilling or unable to retaliate against the original provocateur, and subsequently aggresses against a seemingly innocent target”. In here, we see that the person who is provoked is the working man, the provocateur is the supervisor (the boss), and the innocent target the wife of the working man. The wife has been aggressed by the working man and not by the supervisor of his husband. The wife is the innocent third party.

Frustration in the work place can lead to displaced aggression. In the article, “Abusive Supervision and Family Undermining as Displaced Aggression” it states that “supervisors are being abusive as retribution for poor performance, or perhaps poor performers tend to perceive higher amounts of abuse from their bosses” (Hoober and Brass, 2006). This means that most of the time a supervisor may get mad at a worker because the worker does poor work. For example, the supervisor (boss) can get mad at a person because the worker does badly or is slow at his task. Then, the supervisor provokes the worker and tells things to the worker for not doing well. After being provoked, he aggresses his wife at home for no reason at all. The worker aggress his wife because he can not aggress the supervisor, due to the fact that he may lose his job.

At work, the man can also get high stress from too much work. The man may also be angry because the supervisor is provoking him by constantly telling him in t to do his work faster. In the supervisor’s eyes, the worker does a poor performance and is not doing well at his job. The man can not do much to fight for his rights because he fears losing his job because the supervisor, the “provocateur has greater power” (Pedersen, Gonzales, and Miller 2000) then the worker. Basically, when a person insults us and that person has more power then us, then we can not really do anything and we just keep our anger to ourselves. Later, we displace our anger to someone else that has nothing to do with what made us angry. We become aggressive with the innocent person that has nothing to do with our anger. For example, if our mother gets mad at us for just about anything, we become very upset but we learn that we don’t talk back to our mother. We keep that anger in ourselves and then we go and displace our aggression to a sister that resembles our mother. We become aggressive with the sister because we can not fight back with our mothers.

To avoid displaced aggression, people can learn to better deal with things. People should try to do their work the way their boss wants it so that the boss/supervisor doesn’t get mad. They should try their best to do a good job at their work. We have to learn how to deal with problems in life so that if we get angry with one person, we don’t go and displace our aggression to an innocent person.


The displaced aggression can explain the aggressive behavior (the massacre) that happened to the Columbine High School. From my perspective, I think that the two students that started to shoot the other students and teachers at the high school were provoked by something at the high school. Therefore, they displaced their anger to the innocent students and teachers. Maybe the two students were provoked by something that had more power then them, so they couldn’t fight back. This may be why they became very aggressive and started to shoot students and teachers that they thought had less power. The two students displace their aggression toward the teachers and students of the Columbine High School where they were attending too.


Barron, Robert A; Richardson, Deborah R. (1994). Human Aggression. Perspectives in social psychology. 2nd edition.

Denson, Thomas F.; Pedersen, William C.; Miller, Norman (2006). The displaced aggression questionnaire. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 90(6):1032-1051.

Hoobler, Jenny M.; Brass, Daniel J (2006). Abusive supervision and family undermining as displaced aggression. Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 91(5): 1125-1133

Marcus-Newhall, Amy; Pedersen, William C.; Carlson, Mike; Miller, Norman (2000). Displaced aggression is alive and well: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 78(4): 670-689.

Pedersen, William C.; Gonzales, Candace; Miller, Norman (2000). The moderating effect of trivial triggering provocation on displaced aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 78(5): 913-927

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