Aggressive Behavior

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Whenever the term aggressive is used to describe a student's behavior, images of physical injury to another automatically come to mind. Aggression is the most serious of inappropriate behaviors and has the most serious consequences for both the student and those in his or her environment. Wood, Cowan, and Baker (2002, p. 72) found that "approximately half of the variance in sociometric and teacher ratings of peer rejection was accounted for by aggression and social withdrawal for boys and girls."

Violent and bullying behavior are specific types of aggressive behavior that result in similar outcomes or functions of aggressive behavior. These functions include power and control, affiliation, escape, gaining attention, and self-gratification. There is no one globally accepted definition of aggressive behavior (e.g., Bandura, 1973; Kerr & Nelson, 1998; Lancelotta & Vaughn, 1989). Some consensus seems to exist, however, that aggressive behavior is meant either to injure another, to gain something for the aggressor, or to result in both injury and extraneous gains.

Bandura (1973, p. 8) distinguishes instrumental and hostile aggression. He describes instrumental aggression as those actions "aimed at securing extraneous rewards other than the victim's suffering." A student who steals a pair of tennis shoes out of another student's locker is an example of someone who engages in instrumental aggression. Hostile aggression is defined as actions that are "used to produce injurious outcomes rather than to gain status, power, resources, or some other types of results" (p. 8). Long and Brendtro (1993) define aggression as

a spontaneous, impulsive act of anger. Aggression is observable behavior which can depreciate, threaten, or hurt a person or destroy an object. It is unplanned and usually occurs during times of stress. Aggression is viewed as a loss of self-control or an impulse break-through. (p. 3)

In this text, aggressive behaviors refer to those behaviors—verbal, nonverbal, or physical—that injure another indirectly or directly and/or result in extraneous gains for the aggressor. These behaviors are typically described in terms such as those that appear frequently in the literature (Hunt, 1993; Kerr & Nelson, 1998; Lancelotta & Vaughn, 1989; Long & Brendtro, 1993; Sasso, Melloy, & Kavale, 1990). The student's body language for all of these aggressive behaviors is a stance that clearly communicates anger, rage, frustration, humiliation, and/or other feelings that motivate aggressive behavior.

In instances where verbal aggression is manifested, students will not always demonstrate the body language described (e.g., tattling), but the intent of the behavior is still clearly to hurt another person or to gain something for the aggressor. It is also important to keep in mind that even playful hits, kicks, and punches and sarcastic statements are forms of aggressive behavior. Educators and others should encourage students and reinforce them for using alternative behaviors to express affection and liking for others.

Hunt (1993, pp. 16-18) describes five patterns of aggressive behavior: overaroused aggression, impulsive aggression, affective aggression, predatory aggression, and instrumental aggression.

  • Overaroused aggression: Students engage in behavior that is characterized by high levels of activity that result in frequent accidents and aggressive incidents. Students who push and shove their peers often provoke or initiate an aggressive response from their peers. Unlike motivation for other types of aggressive behavior, students who demonstrate overaroused aggression rarely select their victims.
  • Impulsive aggression: Students are generally quiet and passive in their demeanor but seemingly have a low tolerance for frustration. When frustrated, the student may burst into a flurry of activity and violence that can be uncharacteristically destructive.
  • Affective aggression: Students demonstrate rageful aggression. Their behavior is described as appearing to be chronically angry, resentful, and hostile.
  • Predatory aggression: Students seem to be seeking revenge. Individuals who demonstrate predatory aggression are described as persons who wait for a chance to get back at another person in a hurtful, harmful manner.
  • Instrumental aggression: Students act as the intimidating bully. Students who engage in instrumental aggression demonstrate behaviors that allow them to get their own way through intimidation of others.
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