Psychophysiological Correlates of Childhood Maltreatment and Physical Aggression Perpetration

Andrea Massa, Purdue University


Objective: Trauma exposure and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been consistently linked with aggression perpetration in past research. One theory that has been used to help explain the association between trauma and aggression is the “survival mode” theory, which proposes that traumatized individuals develop an overactive threat detection system, which leads to a greater propensity for anger and aggression. The purpose of the current study was to empirically test the survival mode theory of aggression using a novel methodology. Method: Participants in the current study included 20 undergraduate students from a large university. Participants completed self-report measures of childhood trauma, PTSD symptoms, and anger, and they completed behavioral tasks assessing attentional biases toward threat and aggressive behavior while their brain activity was recorded with an electroencephalogram. Results: Current findings suggest that individuals with a history of childhood physical abuse and PTSD symptoms may be at increased risk for aggressive behavior and that this association can be partially explained by anger and avoidance of trauma-related stimuli. Conclusions: Present findings are partially consistent with past theory and research and suggest that anger and avoidance may be important factors to target in intervention programs for trauma-related aggression.




Eckhardt, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

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