PSY307-Triggered Displaced Aggression

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Section 1

There are many types of aggression we all use throughout our lives. All types of aggression have some sort of action with intent to harm. Displaced aggression or displacement is when a person aggresses against a person(s) other than their frustraters (Baron and Richardson 1994). So the most common example for this type of aggression is the kicking the dog effect. A man gets yelled at by his boss at work, and because he fears losing his job he does not aggress against his boss. He was aggravated when he came home and the first thing he saw was his dog laying on the floor, so the man kicks his dog out of the way. In this case the dog did nothing to warrant a kick, but the man released his aggression out on the third party (the dog) because he had to let out his frustration. Triggered displaced aggression is similar to displaced aggression, but it takes two situational factors instead of one.

Triggered displaced aggression requires more provocation, after an initial frustrating event, in order for the person to aggress. It is similar because a person has to feel frustrated or aggravated without being able to retaliate at the person who caused his initial frustration. After feeling frustrated, a third party who is not innocent because they commit a mild or strong provocation and therefore cause a triggering event, which causes a person to unleash their frustration out on the second provoker. Using the same example as above, when the man comes home from work and his dog is barking at him, he overreacts and kicks his dog hard. While the provocation was minor, the man was already agitated and when his dog started to bark, it was seen as a minor provocation and he took out his aggression on the dog. The dog barking that caused a major provocation is called the trigging event that pushed his frustration over the top.

Trigger displaced aggression greatly influences aggressive behavior because two situational provocations occur for the person to aggress. Studies show that mild provocation after displaced aggression show the highest amount of aggression (Vasquez, Denson, Pedersen, Stenstrom, and Miller, 2005). Aggression levels from triggered displaced aggression tend to be higher because it combines the level of aggression from the first provocation and the second provocation (Pedersen, Bushman, Vasquez, & Miller, 2008). In the same article, the research shows that people who are similar and are in the same in-group receive less aggressive responses compared to dissimilar people and people from an out-group (Pedersen, et al., 2008). Same in-group means to be in the same group such as gender, social class, race, opinions, and so forth. The study had participants write essays about pro-choice and pro-life abortion issues. It showed that people with the same opinion did not aggress against each other as much as people with another opinion. The in-group in this study was having the same issue about abortion. Another study shows that if alcohol is involved, people who are exposed to strong triggering provocations exhibit stronger levels of aggression than do people that are not intoxicated (Denson, Aviles, Pollock, Earleywine, Vasquez, & Miller, 2007). Strong triggering events have weaker aggression responses in these studies. Though conclusive evidence is not yet apparent, it is hypothesized that strong triggering events increase avoidant tendencies so people do not aggress as much to stronger triggers (Vasquez, et al., 2005). Avoidant tendencies are to avoid contact with people so you will not be provoked into aggressing.

Triggered displaced aggression cannot help reduce aggression. People are going to be provoked and while they are ruminating about that provocation, another provocation may occur. There are going to be times when something mild is going to happen and it will trigger the displaced aggression. We do not know what people are thinking or what caused a provocation while they are ruminating, so trigger displaced aggression cannot help reduce aggression. The use of triggered displaced aggression explains why sometimes ambiguous situations are overreacted to (Miller, Pedersen, Earleywine, & Pollock, 2003).

Section 2 and 3

Here is an example of triggered displaced aggression in a real life situation: five Alabama police officers were fired for beating up a helpless criminal who was on the floor after a high speed chase. It started in Birmingham, Alabama where the suspect took police officers on a fifty mile high speed chase. The video footage shows that the suspect appears to have hit a police officer who was trying to put nails on the floor to flatten the suspect’s tires. The officer was not injured but was centimeters away from being hit. Twenty seconds later, the chase came to an end when the van got pushed into the side of the freeway and it rolled into a ditch. The suspect was ejected from the van while it was rolling and stopped moving, but the police men got out of their cars and started to beat up the suspect with their batons. This caused the five officers to lose their jobs for unnecessary use of force.

This story is a classic case of triggered displaced aggression. The police officers were first provoked by the suspect when he did not abide by the law then making them chase him for fifty miles. During the fifty mile chase through Birmingham, the driver endangered many lives. Thirty seconds before he was pushed into the ditch of the freeway, it appeared he ran over a police officer. This act could have had a significant triggering effect on the five police officers who beat him while he was on the floor. The officers may have thought that the suspect hit one of their comrades and when he was finally stopped, aggressed toward the suspect by using unnecessary force. The triggering effect also could have been the fact that the suspect endangered many lives during the chase, and each time could have been a triggering event for the police officers. Their jobs are to protect the people and when those lives are endangered, they can become aggressive to stop whoever is endangering their lives. Because no statements were made by the officers who got fired, we do not know their true intentions why they were beating on the suspect. It is possible to assume though, that their emotions took control of their bodies and they acted without thinking.

Section 4

When the Columbine story first came out, it was an example of triggered displaced aggression. The news stories had said the shooters were “Goths and loners” and they targeted jocks and minorities during their shooting rampage. They were indirectly provoked because they were the outcasts of their school and the triggering event could have been getting bullied like the news reports said. Initial reports told us that the shootings were an aggressive act out of retaliation for being picked on, but ten years after Columbine we learned that none of this was true. They were not bullied into retaliation, did not play too many video games, and were not looking for fame. They were troubled teens with psychological problems. One of the kids was a psychopath (Eric Harris); the other was suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts (Dylan Klebold). Because they had psychological problems, it is hard to categorize their actions using triggered displaced aggression. It is easy to say they were in an aggressive mood because their actions were intended to harm their fellow classmates, but to say they were provoked into this act is not so easy.

Eric Harris was a cold-blooded predatory psychopath so he did not feel remorse for his actions and Dylan Klebold was a depressed individual with suicidal thoughts. When someone has suicidal thoughts it is hard to prevent murder because they do not care if they live or die. Teens usually do not just randomly think of hurting their fellow classmates, and therefore need some sort of provocation. If so then a triggering event may have happened for these two to team up to create a shooting rampage. Though the new reports states that Eric hated his classmates for not calling him out, this sort of minor provocation was possibly a triggering event to his rampage. Klebold said in his dairies that he has always been hated by everyone and this act could have had a triggering event to Klebold’s actions.


Baron, A.R., & Richardson, R.D. (1994). Human Aggression. New York: Plenum Press

Denson, F.T., Aviles, E.F., Pollock, E.V., Earleywine, M., Vasquez, A.E. (2008) The Effects of Alcohol and the Salience of Aggressive Cues on Triggered Displaced Aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 34, 25-33.

Miller, N., Pedersen, C.W., Earleywine, M., Pollock, E.V. (2003). A Theoretical Model of Triggered Displaced Aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 75-97.

Pedersen, C.W., Bushman, J.B., Vasquez, A.E., Miller, N. (2008). Kicking the (Barking) Dog Effect: The Moderating Role of Target Attributes on Triggered Displaced Aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34.

Vasquez, A.E., Denson, F.T., Pedersen, C.W., Stenstrom, M.D., Miller, N. (2005). The Moderating Effect of Trigger Intensity on Triggered Displaced Aggression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 61-67.

5 Alabama Police Officers Fired for Beating Suspect on Tape 2009. May 20, 2009 <//,2933,520877,00.html/>

10 Years Later, the Real Story Behind Columbine 2009. May 14, 2009

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