Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 823-824

Instrumental Aggression

  • Tamara Del VecchioAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, St. John’s University


Proactive aggression


Instrumental aggression is harmful behavior engaged in without provocation to obtain an outcome or coerce others.


One of the most robust distinctions within the field of aggression is between hostile and instrumental aggression [4]. In contrast to hostile aggression, in which the perpetrator is impulsive, emotion driven and reactive, instrumental aggression is conceived as proactive, premeditated and cold-blooded [1, 3]. The goal of instrumental aggressive behavior is to obtain a preferred outcome or to coerce others. Instrumental aggression is founded in the social learning model of aggressive behavior in which aggression is learned through vicarious reinforcement and maintained by the expectation that this behavior will result in a reward [3]. Instrumental aggression is also associated with callous-unemotional traits such as lack of guilt and empathy and it can be either physical or relational.

Instrumental a ...

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