Displaced Aggression: Definition & Theory

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Stress Disorders: Definition and Perspectives

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 What Is Displaced Aggression?
  • 1:14 Theory of Displaced Aggression
  • 2:14 Theory Examples
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you'll learn the difference between aggression and displaced aggression. We'll also review the theory of displaced aggression and look at some examples.

What Is Displaced Aggression?

Tom is having constant difficulty at work. He is regularly being criticized by his supervisor and feels that he is unable to do anything right. When Tom returns home from work, he often yells at his wife and kids.

Aggression encompasses behavior, such as yelling or physical violence, that comes about as a result of feelings of anger. When you are angry, you will often take your anger out on the person causing it. But sometimes you are not able to express your anger directly to the person who is causing it. And if you are unable to resolve your anger, it may become displaced, meaning that it is directed towards something or someone else that has nothing to do with the original conflict.

Displaced aggression is aggressive behavior that cannot be expressed to the actual source that provoked the behavior; instead the anger is taken out on the easiest victim. In the example of Tom, he cannot take his aggression to the source of his anger, his supervisor, due to the possibility of getting fired if he does. Instead, he takes out his anger and dissatisfaction with the way things are going at work on the easiest victims, his wife and kids. After all, his wife and kids usually forgive him.

Theory of Displaced Aggression

The theory of displaced aggression is simply explained in the definition. But there is an additional component of displaced aggression that has fascinated social psychologists and researchers. This is the idea of triggered displaced aggression.

Triggered displaced aggression occurs when a person has anger towards someone (i.e. a supervisor or a coworker) that he or she cannot express to that person directly for fear of consequences, and then later, a mild trigger of annoyance or irritation causes the person to explode with anger due to the pent up frustration that he could not express earlier.

In the case of Tom, the mild trigger could be his wife telling him that his mother-in-law is coming for dinner on Friday night. Tom is really just slightly annoyed that he'll have to put up with his mother-in-law, but he erupts in anger, yelling at his wife at the dinner table, and eventually storming out of the room. This is due to the pent up anger that Tom has repressed. The comment about his mother-in-law was 'the straw that broke the camel's back' if you will.

Theory Examples

Have you ever taken a ride on the metro and accidentally bumped the person next to you, only to be met by an intensely hostile look? You may have been the target of this person's displaced aggression. After all, it was only an accidental bump. You didn't deserve that look! Let's look at a few more examples of displaced aggression.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account