The aggression curve: what it is and what it shows about our emotions

How many times have we been angry and made it seem like this isn’t going to happen to us? But, of course, we end up reassuring ourselves. You can’t be angry all the time because in addition to being exhausting, you can make the mistake of doing something you regret.

Everything that goes up ends up coming down, and anger does not erase this universal maxim. Humans experience something what has been called the aggressiveness curve, a multi-phase process in which we experience the escalation and scaling of our emotions of anger, hostility and aggression

Knowing how this process works is helpful not only for understanding human behavior, but also for avoiding further anger the next time we find ourselves in a situation of high emotional stress. Let’s see why.

    What is the aggression curve?

    We have all been angry more than once. And whoever says no will at least have witnessed a fight between friends. When you get angry, you start to feel more and more angry. Anger rises, but not indefinitely. It reaches a point where hostility peaks and then subsides until it reaches calm.. This is called the aggression curve.

    No one is constantly angry, although it is true that there are people who get angry every two or three and maybe that is the feeling they give. Anger and the associated emotions follow the logic of gravity, which means that whatever goes up must come down. Or if you prefer another metaphor, after the storm comes calm. It is only a matter of time before the anger subsides and relaxation comes.

    Aggression is said to be an emotional state motivated by hate. It’s really not quite like that, but it certainly plays, along with the inconvenience and misunderstanding, an important role in the manifestation of this emotion. Being aggressive can be used to accomplish something, to invest energy in achieving a lofty goal, and to defend against anyone who wants to take it away from us. However, in a civilized and social world, aggression is seldom effective enough, because it ends up hurting someone, whether it be someone else or ourselves.

    We will see how the aggression curve is given, by analyzing its phases and what behaviors characterize them.

      What is aggression?

      Human aggression manifests itself as a set of behaviors characterized by the use of force with the intention of harming other people, animals or objects. In the event of an assault on people, damage can be both physical and psychological. It is an emotional state which, as we mentioned earlier, is often accompanied by feelings of hate.

      Aggression can manifest itself physically or verbally, both separately and in combination. Physical assault refers to an attack from one individual to another by weapons or bodily elements, thereby performing motor behaviors and physical actions to cause bodily harm. Verbal aggression, on the other hand, is the expression of remarks offensive to the recipient, in the form of insults or comments of threat and rejection.

      The continuum THERE

      In popular parlance, the words “aggression”, “hostility” and “anger” are used interchangeably. They do have their nuances, which is reflected in the proposition of Charles D. Spielberger, Susan S. Krasner and Eldra P. Solomon who used these three terms in their continuous aggression-hostility-anger or AHI (in English AHA, from angel-hostility.-aggression).

      This model brings together emotions and affections (anger), cognitions and attitudes (hostility) and manifested behaviors and behaviors (aggression). Anger and hostility are factors that can predispose to aggression.

      Anger can be understood as a reaction of irritation, anger or anger caused by the feeling that our rights have been violated.. This emotion can also arise when faced with the difficulty or the impossibility of achieving a certain goal. It is considered a moral emotion because it can result from a betrayal of trust, a lack of respect and consideration for others, or an accumulation of experiences that seem unfair.

      Hostility is the attitude of resentment towards someone. This usually results in the commission of implicit verbal or motor responses. It is a negative emotion, which is characterized by expressions of anger and irritability.

        The stress curve and the phases

        The aggression or hostility curve is a graphical representation of how the escalation and de-escalation of hostile behavior occurs.

        As we mentioned, this is a phenomenon where first there is an increase in aggressiveness but then it ends up decreasing and bring the emotionally tense person into a state of relaxation. There are mainly six phases of this curve and knowing them will help us know when and how to intervene to prevent an aggressive situation, such as a fight between friends, from reoccurring.

        1. Rational phase

        Most people tend to be in the rational phase most of the time. It’s about being reasonable most of the day, not necessarily being in a good mood but not in a bad mood, and being able to have a calm, civilized conversation. It is the right emotional state to argue or debate without escalating.

        We are often able to stop when we realize that if we continue like this we will get angry. However, sometimes it does not happen, the conversation continues and if you say things that neither party likes, there starts to be tensions and you move on to the next phase.

          2. Firing or exit phase

          The shooting or exit phase is the point where Pandora’s Box opens. The irritation becomes present and the perfect factors begin to be given to trigger the aggressiveness. Add to that any behavior on the part of the other person that could be interpreted as provocation, this is when the actual shooting occurs.

          The result is that rationality is cornered with the possibility that the vapors will immediately subside, and there begins to be a discharge of hostility which will only increase.

          3. Slow phase

          We can’t be angry and angry forever. Sooner or later the situation will have to stabilize and calm down, but it must be said that for this to happen as soon as possible it is important that the person who is already angry does not perceive further provocations. If you receive further taunts, there will be a further escalation of aggression.

          4. Confrontation phase

          That much, the other person’s behavior may or may not affect whether a new shot is fired or the situation eventually stabilizes. If we are “on the other side,” what he does is try to empathize with the person who’s been taken in by the anger, but without giving them the whole reason.

          On top of that, he may not be right, if we give it to him because he interprets it like we give him reason like fools, we laugh at him and they will basically be more angry.

            5. Cooling phase

            If the person feels validated, they can understand that they have lost some of their steps for something that does not deserve so much, and which will gradually calm down.

            6. Problem solving phase

            Once it’s all over the angry person is able to regain control of their thinking and behavior, discuss in a more rational and calm manner and seek a solution to what started the conflict.

              When is the best time to intervene?

              The best time to talk to the angry person is during the adjustment phase. At that point, it was time to say something. Intervening earlier can be interpreted as a new provocation which, as we mentioned, would generate a new escalation of aggression and one would still have to wait for the vapors to calm down a bit.

              Therefore, avoid trying to calm down or reason with the angry person before the confrontation phase. If it was us who made him angry, whether we are right or not, it is best not to try to justify our behavior. And whatever you want do not interrupt with your arguments in favor.

              The best thing we can do before the confrontation phase is:

              • Make sure you are properly protected from any other person physical attack.
              • Watch for the possibility of self-injurious behavior and alert professionals.
              • Wait until the emotional tension subsides.
              • Listen without judging or feeling assaulted.
              • Avoid showing disbelief or inattention.
              • Keep calm.

              Added to this there is three steps to follow to get the angry person to calm down a bit.

              1. Control the context

              As far as possible, we have to try to control the context and the stimuli that the person who is outside himself receives. If we are the main source of stress, we have to move away, and if it is the situation or other people that are stressing the person, we have to try to move them away. We can invite you to sit down if you prefer, which can help you calm down faster.

              2. Try to calm us down

              Better a poor horse than no horse at all. We must try to calm down, avoid shouting or responding to “provocations” on the other hand with more provocations.

              3. Let it drain away

              Maybe the angry person isn’t right at all, but bringing the opposite now won’t do them any good. The ideal is to let go, to let go by letting go of everything you need to let go and let yourself be expressed. When we do, we need to avoid judging her or giving her advice, now is not the best time and she will not listen to you.

              Once you have calmed down you will be able to see and understand the many drawbacks of doing so, as you think about how to act in a way that brings more benefits and less social trouble. When he’s calm, this will be a great time to try and get him to understand the other party’s feelings. and start coming up with consensual and positive alternatives to solve the problem that gave rise to this whole situation of hostility.

              The usefulness of knowing the aggressiveness curve

              In an idyllic and wonderful world, there were no conflicts. But we live in the real world, and living in society means that some conflict inevitably arises. We cannot avoid being involved in stressful situations, and sometimes it is almost impossible for us to avoid reacting aggressively, but not necessarily engaging in physically violent behavior.

              But we must also understand that anger is a human emotion that has played a central role throughout our evolutionary history. Depending on the context, aggression and anger are natural and adaptive responses, motivating us to adopt threatening behavior in the face of a deadly threat.

              In social life, knowing how the aggressiveness curve is given can serve us both to avoid getting more angry and do something you regret later how to avoid, if you have in front of a person who is angry, make more firewood. Knowing the five phases we go through when we are angry will help us avoid further escalation.

              It is worth controlling our aggressiveness, not only to avoid making bad decisions and hurting others, but also to be angry and tired for a long time.

              Bibliographical references

              • Averill, JR (1982). Anger and Aggression: An Essay on Emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.
              • Berkowitz, L. (1962). Aggression: a social psychological analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill.
              • Buss, AH (1961). The psychology of aggression. New York: John Wiley & Son.
              • Girod de la Malla, C. (2020). The aggression curve: everything that goes up ends up going down. The spirit is wonderful. Retrieved from:
              • Spielberger, CD, Krasner, SS and Solomon, EP (1988). In Individual Differences, Stress and Health Psychology (pp. 89-108). Springer, New York, NY. Slender,

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