Mind Diagnostics is user-supported. If you buy through a link on the site, we may earn a commission from BetterHelp at no additional cost to you. Learn More

Different Types of Aggression

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault · October 25, 2020 ·

Aggression is something many of us experience daily. Sometimes we’re on the receiving end of it, while other times, we’re the ones releasing it. Either way, aggression needs to be avoided if we want to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

Unfortunately, most people won’t find the help they need, and others will only see their issues worsen over time. Knowing how to detect aggression, knowing how to deal with aggression, and moving past aggression is essential in life.

Although most of us agree that aggressive behavior is wrong, defining "aggression" is rather difficult because it can be experienced in so many different ways. You could ask a psychologist, your teacher, your friends, and Google, “What does aggression mean?” and arrive at different answers from each.

The 4 Types Of Aggression

When most of us think of aggression, we immediately think of the behavior that results in physical harm to oneself or others. While that’s a big part of what aggression means, it doesn’t give you the full aggression definition and dismisses a large portion of aggressive behavior as non-aggressive.

That’s why we use the term "aggression" as a blanket term to describe all the different types of aggression we experience daily. When we define "aggression," we first break it down into the four major types of aggression -- physical, mental, emotional, and verbal.

Let’s take a closer look at each one:

  • Physical Aggression - aggressive behavior that physically harms yourself or someone else, such as hitting, biting, using weapons, and kicking.
  • Mental Aggression - aggressive behavior experienced with the intent of harming someone mentally, such as causing anxiety, stress, or depression
  • Emotional Aggression -aggressive behavior that harms someone emotionally and causes them to struggle with expressing themselves.
  • Verbal Aggression - aggressive behavior that is spoken by one person to make another person feel less confident in their own skin.

In most cases of aggressive behavior, one major type of aggression leads to another major type. That’s why victims of aggressive behavior are met with so many different health and wellness concerns and why it only gets worse over time.

Once you determine the major type of aggression you’re experiencing, you can further define that aggression by grouping it into one of the four secondary types of aggression -- accidental aggression, expressive aggression, hostile aggression, and instrumental aggression.

Understanding the secondary types of aggression is important because they’ll further direct how you respond to aggression. Don’t worry, we’ll discuss each one in further detail below.

  1. Accidental Aggression

Although aggression generally refers to unnecessary or unwarranted behavior, that doesn’t always mean aggression occurs on purpose. In fact, there are a wide variety of aggressive instances where the person doesn’t mean any harm -- physical, mental, emotional, or verbal.

This is called accidental aggression, which is defined as aggression more or less caused by carelessness, laziness, or simply not paying attention to what’s going on around you. It’s not done on purpose, hence the name accidental aggression.

Since accidental aggression happens more often than you’d think, it’s important to always understand each angle and side of the situation. What might look like aggression to one person might just be an accident to someone else.

Here’s a perfect example. Let’s say you’re walking through the grocery store with your cart, and you accidentally bump the back of the person’s foot when they’re walking in front of you. You didn’t mean to be aggressive there, but it happened. As for the other person, they shouldn’t get angry with you or start yelling at you. They could, however, turn around and politely ask you to watch where you’re walking.

Accidental aggression also occurs in sports often. Players are playing hard, and they’re all competitive, but sometimes they play too hard and end up accidentally hurting another player. No one wants to see someone get injured, even if it’s a rival, but it does happen.

Accidental aggression won’t require as strict or heavy punishment as other aggression types since the person knows what happened was wrong, but a response is still needed because harm can be done.

  1. Expressive Aggression

With accidental aggression, there’s no intent to harm the other person, and there’s no sense of satisfaction or enjoyment in the act. Expressive aggression is a little different. While there’s still no intent to harm anyone else, there is a sense of enjoyment from the act that piques our interest.

Keep in mind that this enjoyment doesn’t come from harming the other person. Instead, the sense of enjoyment we get from the behavior overshadows how it might make another person feel, which is why we often disregard how the other person feels entirely.

A good example of expressive aggression is with children. They’re inquisitive individuals, they love to play, they’re always trying new things, and are always learning. With that being said, they don’t always make the best decisions and don’t always know how their actions are perceived by others.

Let’s say you have two kids, and one of them loves to play with legos and build things. It’s what they enjoy doing, and it’s what they find fun. Now, let’s say the other kid enjoys throwing things, breaking things, and destroying things -- which is what they do to your other child’s legos.

Both kids are enjoying themselves in their own way, and neither means harm to each other, but one of the kids is being aggressive by destroying the other child’s legos. That’s why it’s important to teach your children that everything they do or say has an effect on those around them, and we must take those feelings into account -- as well as our own.

  1. Hostile Aggression

Up to this point, we’ve discussed a type of aggression that is 100% accidental and done on purpose but not with the intent of hurting anyone. However, when it comes to hostile aggression, it’s both done on purpose and with the intent of hurting someone -- whether that be physically, mentally, emotionally, or verbally.

Today, most hostile aggression examples are also labeled as bullying, which is an enormous problem in the world and is only getting worse with the internet and social media. Where accidental aggression requires a response and expressive aggression requires a change of mindset, hostile aggression simply needs to end -- no ifs, and, or buts about it.

A good example of hostile aggression is when a bully beats up a student at school, calls them names on the playground, or makes fun of them for not being at a certain reading level. People are also hostile and aggressive when children have disabilities, unique qualities, or hold a different belief than others.

There’s no place for hostile aggression and no instance where it should be tolerated. When you encounter hostile aggression or feel you might be causing it, it’s always best to take a step back and think about what you can do to better the situation. The sooner these issues get solved, the less chance they will worsen before it gets any better.

  1. Instrumental Aggression

The final type of aggression we’re going to discuss is instrumental aggression. When comparing this to the other types, it’s similar to expressive aggression because there isn’t always an ill-will behind it or intent to hurt others. At the same time, there’s an overlaying problem that must be dealt with.

Instrumental aggression is aggressive behavior when fighting over a certain object or idea, but someone gets hurt in the process. As you can likely imagine, these situations aren’t supposed to get out of hand, but sometimes do.

In children, instrumental aggression is generally a result of two kids fighting over a toy, blanket, food, or anything else they want in their possession at any given time. It’s not that they want to induce harm, but their obsessive need for that item overshadows all of that.

If you notice your child hit another child or adult to get what they want, it doesn’t mean they want that other person to hurt. Instead, they want what they don’t have and don’t know how to get it any other way. With that being said, this is a crucial opportunity to teach the child something they’ll remember for the rest of their life.


In addition to understanding the different types of aggression -- whether it be physical, mental, emotional, verbal, instrumental, expressive, hostile, or accidental -- it’s important to understand why that aggression was experienced in the first place.

The type of aggression generally gives you guidance on how to respond but doesn’t always get to the real issue at hand. As a result, the aggression might only be fixed temporarily but resurface in the future when something triggers it.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons aggressive behavior occurs:

  • To show that someone is superior or dominant over someone else.
  • To show anger or hostility towards someone else.
  • To intimidate or threaten someone else.
  • To react or respond to a certain situation, even when it’s not the right response.
  • To achieve a goal, even if we don’t need to act aggressively to achieve it.
  • To compete with those around us and show that we’re better.

In today’s society, there are many reasons why someone might be aggressive toward another individual. Furthermore, there are so many different situations where aggressive behavior is experienced, and you need to know how to respond to each one.

Better yet, you need to know when to detect aggression in yourself. That way, you can work on finding other ways to channel your emotions and control your actions.

Now that we’ve defined ‘what is aggressive behavior,’ described the 4 types of aggression, and gave a wide variety of examples of aggressive behavior, it’s time to start finding solutions tailored to meet your needs. Don’t worry. Mind Diagnostics is here to help!

We have a comprehensive aggression test -- one for males and one for females -- that helps determine whether or not you engage in aggressive behavior and what you can do to find help today. We’ll even match you with a therapist in your area to ensure you get the assistance needed!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the types of aggression?
What are forms of aggressive behavior?
What are the characteristics of aggression?
What is positive aggression?
What is physical aggression?
What is social aggression?
How do you manage aggression?
What is passive aggression?
What is assertive aggressive?
What is an example of passive-aggressive behavior?

Find out if you have a mental health condition

Taking an online mental health test is quick, free, and you'll get your confidential results instantly.

Mental health conditions are real, common, and treatable. And you are not alone. If you think that you may be suffering from a mental health issue then taking a quick online test can help start the process of learning about and addressing the issue.

Take a Test Learn more