Don’t Take It Out on Me: Displaced Aggression After Provocation by a Romantic Partner as a Function of Attachment Anxiety and Self-Control

Erica B. Slotter, Jessica L. Grom, Brenden Tervo-Clemmens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objective: Intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs when someone deliberately tries to physically harm their romantic partner without the partner’s consent. IPV represents risky behavior, as it jeopardizes one’s relationship. In contrast, displacing aggression toward a third party when provoked by a partner represents a less risky method to express aggression. The current research examined how attachment anxiety and self-control might promote individuals engaging in displaced aggression compared with direct IPV against a partner. Method: Three laboratory-based studies (N = 327) were conducted. Study 1 examined likelihood of direct aggression (IPV), measured via a laboratory proxy of aggressive behavior, as a function of attachment anxiety and self-control, whereas Studies 2 and 3 contrasted direct versus displaced aggressive tendencies, using proxies of aggressive behavior and partner provocation. Results: We predicted individuals high, versus low, in attachment anxiety, who are highly dependent on their relationships and thus should avoid jeopardizing them, would be more likely to displace aggression. Additionally, we predicted that displaced aggression requires self-control. Thus, individuals who are high in attachment anxiety and high self-control resources should be especially likely to displace aggression, rather than enact IPV when provoked by a partner. All three studies supported these predictions. Conclusion: The current research demonstrates that individuals in romantic relationships may displace aggressive urges away from provoking partners, provided they are dependent enough on the relationship and have the resources to do so. This study expands the literature by providing participants the opportunity to engage in no, direct, or displaced aggression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-244
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Violence
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Psychological Association


  • attachment anxiety
  • displace aggression
  • intimate partner violence
  • self-control


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