What Is Indirect Aggression?

Indirect aggression is the use of non-physical acts of meanness, cruelty or offense. Hitting and punching are examples of direct aggression; indirect aggression includes more calculated acts, such as gossiping, emotional manipulating or social ostracizing. Indirect aggression is considered less risky for the aggressor because it does not rely on physical prowess.

Recent studies have explored the idea that boys tend to favor direct aggression while girls generally use indirect aggression, particularly during adolescence. Teenage girls may form cliques or other social alliances in order to socially ostracize another girl, while boys may bully a peer with shoving or hitting. Indirect aggression is also known as social aggression or relational aggression since it is used to harm a person’s relationships or social standing.

In 2013, Professor Tracy Vaillancourt of the University of Ottawa School of Psychology wrote a paper on the theory of women’s use of indirect aggression as a means to “devalue” other women as sexual competition for male mates. A woman may gossip about another woman’s sexual activity as a way to diminish the woman’s desirability to male peers, thus protecting the aggressor’s chances of procreation. Vaillancourt also notes that women may prefer indirect aggression as an evolutionary means of reproductive self-preservation; direct aggression puts the aggressor’s physical self at risk and consequently puts potential offspring at risk.