What Is Instrumental Aggression And How Does It Affect Your Life?

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 06/27/2022

When’s the last time you caught yourself acting aggressively towards someone else? What about the last time you had someone else act aggressively towards yourself?

For most people, aggressive behavior is something they’ve become all-too-familiar with. Especially in the world we live in today, aggression is everywhere. We experience it at home, at work, in the car, walking down the street, shopping, and even sporting events.

Aggression is something we all experience in our lives, albeit some more than others. It’s something that affects the aggressor’s life and the lives of the victims, witnesses, and anyone else involved in the situation.

While most of us understand what aggression is, especially when we experience it first-hand, most of us aren’t aware of the four major types of aggression. It’s important because each type of aggressive behavior -- whether it be accidental, expressive, instrumental, or hostile -- needs to be dealt with differently.

Of those four major types of aggression, the one people fail to understand the most is instrumental aggression, also referred to as predatory aggression. Don’t worry; we’re going to break down everything you need to know about instrumental aggression and how it affects your life (as well as the lives of those around you).

Understanding Instrumental Aggression

Like any other type of aggression, instrumental aggression is a type of behavior intended to cause physical, emotional, or social harm to another person. With that being said, some certain qualities and characteristics differ instrumental aggression from the other types.

First off, instrumental aggression refers to behavior that’s premeditated or planned in advance, as opposed to it being in the heat of the moment. The aggressor knows what they are doing and is fully aware of the consequences that might arise.

Secondly, instrumental aggression is self-serving and goal-oriented. The aggressor is fulfilling the aggression for their own personal gain, with little-to-no concern for the victim. That’s not to say the aggressor is interested in harming someone, but they’re willing to do it as long as it means they get what they want.

The third characteristic that differs instrumental aggression from the other types is that it’s designed to put the aggressor in a favorable spot. This ensures that the aggressor gets what they want when they want it.

What’s A Good Instrumental Aggression Example?

One of the best ways to explain the instrumental aggression definition is by giving a good example of what these behaviors look like. That’s why we’re going to give you three solid examples of instrumental aggression!

A classic example of instrumental aggression is a bully at the playground stealing a classmate’s lunch money. Believe it or not, this is something that still occurs to this day. The bully stakes out his victim with the intent to harm them, especially if they don’t give up the money.

The bully has a goal, and they’re using the aggression to put themselves in a favorable spot. You also have to consider that the bully doesn’t always want to harm the classmate. Instead, the bully is more focused on getting lunch money.

Another good example is when a criminal robs a bank. Especially in today’s world, this is almost always done with weapons. With that being said, the goal (in the criminal’s mind) is to have the robbery go smoothly; that way, no one has to get hurt. Instead, they’re more focused on getting the money.

There’s a plan in place, the criminals have a goal in mind, and they put themselves in a favorable position with the use of weapons. And while they might not want to physically harm anyone, they almost always socially and emotionally harm them.

Our third instrumental aggression example is a specific event that most of us remember. In 1994, professional figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was viciously attacked ahead of the 1994 Olympic trials. The attack was premeditated by Kerrigan’s rival’s ex-husband and was carried out by two men who charged the ex-husband a fee.

Not only was there a plan and an intent to cause harm, but the goal behind the attack was to ensure Kerrigan’s rival made it to the Olympics instead of Kerrigan. It was a tragic day for everyone involved.

Hostile Vs. Instrumental Aggression

When it comes to instrumental aggression, many people often confuse it with hostile aggression -- especially since instrumental aggression can be hostile at times. The main difference here is premeditation because hostile aggression is done in the heat of the moment.

Hostile aggression isn’t something you plan for. You don’t wake up that day with the intent of harming someone, but that can quickly change depending on the events that unfold that day. That’s what separates hostile vs. instrumental aggression.

Let’s take a look at some common examples of hostile aggression, that way, you can start to see how it differs from instrumental aggression:

  1. Imagine you’re at a party or bar, and everyone’s having a good time. You accidentally bump into someone and immediately apologize, but the other person starts to pick a fight with you. That’s hostile aggression.
  2. Imagine driving down the road, and you accidentally forget to use your turn signal, causing the person behind you to get very angry, speeding up behind you, and aggressively honking his horn at you. That’s hostile aggression.
  3. Let’s say you’re at work, and one of your employees makes an honest mistake. Instead of finding a way to correct it in the future, you start yelling at them and telling them how useless they are. That’s hostile aggression.

In the first scenario, you didn’t mean to bump into the person, and they didn’t wake up that morning to get in a fight. Same with the road rage incident and employee issue. No one wakes up intending to yell at other drivers, and managers don’t wake up to yell at employees.

In the heat of the moment, however, everything changes, and they snap. That’s hostile aggression.

How Does Instrumental Aggression Affect Your Life?

No matter how much we come across aggression or feel it necessary in certain situations, aggressive behavior is never the answer and often only worsens the situation. Much like the other types of aggression, instrumental aggression affects everyone involved -- not just the victim.

Let’s take a look at some of the major ways instrumental aggression can affect each person involved:

  1. Aggressor - aggressive behavior is no way to live your life. It takes the joy out of it and doesn’t allow you to lead a healthy or fulfilling life. Aggressors often find themselves in legal situations, financial troubles and have a wide range of outside issues that need to be dealt with.
  2. Victim - depending on the situation, victims often absorb physical, emotional, or social harm resulting from aggressive behavior. It can cause mental health issues to arise and cause financial distress if physical harm requires rehab.
  3. Witnesses - the victim isn’t the only person that goes through a traumatic experience. Anyone present when aggressive behavior occurs is subject to some type of emotional or social harm. It can change the outlook of anyone’s day in a hurry.
  4. Loved Ones - whether you’re a loved one of the aggressor or a loved one of the victims, you’re going to want what’s best for them either way. Knowing they’re going through a difficult time will cause a strain on your own life and make you feel obligated to help.

Since no good ever comes from instrumental aggression -- or any aggression for that matter -- it’s important to detect it early and know how to handle it. These are often delicate and sensitive situations, but the longer they go unnoticed, the more damage they impose.

Moving Past Instrumental Aggression

Instrumental aggression is just as serious as any other aggression type, despite it being the lesser-understood type. There’s no reason for it; it sucks the life out of any situation and only creates distress in the lives of those affected -- including the aggressor.

Finding help is the only real solution to this problem, though it’s something most people don’t know they need. Some people don’t feel safe telling others about their issues, while others simply don’t know there’s a problem in the first place. Either way, help is needed, and it’s needed now.

That’s where Mind Diagnostics comes in. We understand how troubling instrumental aggression is to anyone’s life. That’s why we help connect people to the right therapists in their area. This way, everyone has access to the help they need.

Not only that, but we’ve created an online aggression test -- one for males and one for females -- to help you determine whether or not aggressive behavior is affecting your quality of life. If it is, we’ll be right by your side to help you find the right help. As always, feel free to contact us at any time to answer any questions you might have.

Keywords: instrumental aggression, instrumental aggression example, instrumental aggression definition, hostile vs. instrumental aggression