Category: Violence / Aggression

PS4- #C93 - Cognitive Distraction Attenuates the Relation Between Trait Disinhibition and Reactive Physical Aggression

Friday, Nov 17
12:15 PM – 1:15 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Aggression / Disruptive Behaviors / Conduct Problems | Cognitive Processes | Externalizing

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).

This study is the first to provide experimental evidence of (a) the relation between trait disinhibition and aggression, and (b) a method for attenuating this association. Distraction from highly provoking cues reduced the robust association between trait disinhibition and aggression. These findings contribute to the broader literature by supporting biased attention allocation toward emotional cues as a mechanism for the relation between trait disinhibition and a variety of risk-taking behaviors.  Thus, these data have important implications for the development of interventions to reduce physical aggression and other at-risk behaviors.

Olivia S. Subramani

Graduate Student
Georgia State University
Atlanta, Georgia

Dominic J. Parrott

Georgia State University