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Smith, J.H. Pao, P. (1973). On the Concept of Aggression. Psychoanal. St. Child, 28:331-346.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 28:331-346

On the Concept of Aggression

Joseph H. Smith, M.D. and Ping-Nie Pao, M.D.


We have suggested that aggression can be defined as the motivational aspect of behavior directed or intended to distance or destroy by modes of flight, fight, or reasoned repudiation. We assume that these modes all derive from a primitive "automatic" flight mechanism which is a part of the primary mental endowment.

Primitive flight responses as attention directed away from a primary region of imbalance are recurrently met, in the average expectable environment, by an object of satisfaction. The memory of this experience (however represented) and the anticipation of its recurrence establish the possibility of approach responses. The interaction, that is, allows the primitive flight response to find a goal and subsequently to become an approach aiming to resolve tension by dependent interaction with an object of satisfaction; the possibility of motivation we conceptualize as libidinal is thus founded.

We have discussed several implications of considering the libidinal and aggressive drives to be both derived from a primitively "blind" flight mechanism and constituted as such through interaction with the environment. We have attempted to show how such a conceptualization might account for convergent and divergent motivation in more adequate fashion than the concepts of instinctual fusion and defusion.

Finally, we have suggested that the actual plurality of motivation in human behavior can nevertheless lend itself to a dualistic conceptual strategy.

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