Category: Violence / Aggression
Trait disinhibition is a broad dimension of personality that is a well-established determinant of a physical aggression (Krueger et al., 2005). While various mediators of this association have been proposed, cognitive processes, such as biased attention allocation, have garnered significant attention as a proximal mechanism (Giancola, Roth, & Parrott, 2006). Specifically, research shows that as the salience of emotional cues become stronger, individuals higher on trait disinhibition disproportionately attend to these cues (e.g., a verbal threat) at the expense of processing inhibitory cues (e.g., legal consequences of aggression). Despite this literature, few studies have examined interventions that may attenuate this effect. The current study sought to address this gap by testing a manipulation that targets this putative cognitive mechanism by incentivizing a shift of attention from a provoking stimulus to a neutral stimulus during a laboratory aggression paradigm. We hypothesized that distracting attention away from strong emotional stimuli would attenuate the association between trait disinhibition and physical aggression.
Participants were 119 undergraduate men who completed the Trait Disinhibition subscale of the Externalizing Spectrum Inventory, were randomly assigned to one of two distraction conditions (i.e., distraction, no-distraction), and were physically provoked via the receipt of low and high intensity electric shocks from a fictitious opponent. Physical aggression was assessed via the Taylor Aggression Paradigm and defined as the summation of standardized scores for the average intensity and duration of shocks administered to the fictitious opponent. Results indicated a significant Trait Disinhibition x Condition x Provocation interaction (b = .427, p < .05). Under conditions of high provocation, trait disinhibition was associated with aggression in non-distracted men (β = .26, p < .05). Consistent with hypotheses, distraction reduced this association (β = -.075, p = .55). These effects were not observed under conditions of low provocation (βs = .051 and -.004).