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Looking for Trouble? Processing of Physical and Social Threat Words in Impulsive and Premeditated Aggression

Abstract

The present study used the P3 component of the event-related potential to investigate attentional bias in the processing of threatening information in physically aggressive men. Results of a modified oddball task involving physical and social threat words revealed a pattern of processing in nonaggressive controls characterized by enhanced P3 amplitude to both categories of threat words as compared to neutral target words. In contrast, both impulsive and premeditated aggressors showed P3 amplitudes that were relatively equal across physical threat, social threat, and neutral target words, indicating that they processed threat cues as if they were neutral. This may indicate less efficient processing of threat cues in particular, and abnormal processing of affective stimuli in general.

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Notes

  1. IA = impulsive aggression; PM = premeditated aggression; LHAQ = Lifetime History of Aggression Questionnaire; BPAQ = Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire; BIS = Barratt Impulsiveness Scale; IPAS = Impulsive and Premeditated Aggression Scale.

  2. This cutoff score represented one standard deviation below the mean (12.4) obtained by impulsive aggressors in Helfritz and Stanford (2006), as an attempt to maintain continuity regarding the classification of aggression between the two studies.

  3. The impulsive and premeditated groups also differed on a number of other personality and psychopathology measures that extend beyond the scope of this paper and will be presented in detail elsewhere (Helfritz-Sinville and Stanford, manuscript in preparation).

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Brian K. Rundle (Baylor University) for his technical assistance. This research was funded by the Dreyfus Health Foundation.

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Correspondence to Laura E. Helfritz-Sinville.

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Laura E. Helfritz-Sinville is now at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.

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Helfritz-Sinville, L.E., Stanford, M.S. Looking for Trouble? Processing of Physical and Social Threat Words in Impulsive and Premeditated Aggression. Psychol Rec 65, 301–314 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-014-0106-z

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Keywords

  • Aggression
  • Attentional bias
  • Impulsive aggression
  • P3
  • P300
  • Premeditated aggression
  • Threat