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Bacciagaluppi, M. (1989). The role of aggressiveness in the work of John Bowlby. Free Associations, 1Q(16):123-134.

(1989). Free Associations, 1Q(16):123-134

The role of aggressiveness in the work of John Bowlby

Marco Bacciagaluppi, M.D.


This article attempts to integrate Bowlby's various contributions to the subject of aggressiveness. His early views, the role of aggressiveness in attachment theory and his more recent work on violence in the family are reported. In both his early and his later work Bowlby distinguishes between a primary form of aggressiveness which is reactive to frustration — in particular to separation — and a secondary form which arises from the first as a result of adverse parental reactions. His more recent work stresses the importance of the displacement of parental hostility on to the children — due to role reversal — in eliciting dysfunctional anger in children. It is suggested that this component was already implicit in much of Bowlby's previous work on separation. It is further suggested that J.P. Scott's model of agonistic behaviour is relevant in these situations.


This overview of Bowlby's contributions to the subject of aggressiveness is part of an effort to define a non-Lorenzian ethological theory of aggressiveness, which can be drawn from the work of authors such as Erich Fromm (1973) and Scott (1977), in addition to that of Bowlby himself. All these authors make a distinction between two forms of aggressiveness: defensive (benign, functional) and destructive (malignant, dysfunctional).

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