Academic journal article The Psychological Record

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

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

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

Article excerpt

Research in the area of human aggression has resulted in the emergence of two major subtypes: an impulsive type that is also sometimes referred to as affective or reactive, and a second type that is variably characterized as premeditated, predatory, proactive, or instrumental (Houston et al. 2004). (1) Impulsive aggression presents as a relatively specific pattern of symptoms including spontaneous rage outbursts and aggressive reactions that are "grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressors" (Stanford et al. 1995, p. 757). Similar patterns of behavior have been characterized as episodic dyscontrol syndrome (Monroe 1970) and Intermittent Explosive Disorder (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Outbursts are usually accompanied by an agitated state, coupled with a lack of concern about potential consequences, and often occur in response to a perceived slight. In contrast, premeditated aggression is characterized by planned or goal-directed aggressive acts committed in a controlled, unemotional manner (Stanford et al. 2003a). Whereas impulsive aggressors are more likely to report experiencing thought confusion during their aggressive outbursts and feelings of remorse afterward, premeditated aggressors report having full control of their behavior, are not remorseful, and tend to commit goal-directed aggressive acts, sometimes for the purposes of social gain and dominance (Barratt et al. 1999).

The differences between impulsive and premeditated aggressors extend well beyond issues of purpose, behavioral control, emotional state, and remorse, as research has consistently shown differences in neurochemistry, neuropsychology, psychophysiology, and treatment efficacy as well (Houston et al. 2004; Scarpa and Raine 2000). While premeditated aggressors appear to be quite similar to normal controls, impulsive aggressors are characterized by verbal and executive function deficits (Stanford et al. 1997; Villemarette-Pittman et al. 2003), and low serotonin as evidenced by CSF metabolites (Linnoila et al. 1989; Linnoila et al. 1983; Roy et al. 1988). Several studies have revealed frontal and temporal deficits in aggressive populations (Kuruoglu et al. 1996; Seidenwurm et al. 1997; Volkow et al. 1995), and when murderers were categorized into predatory and affective subtypes (equivalent to premeditated and impulsive, respectively), abnormally low prefrontal functioning was observed only in the affective murderers (Raine et al. 1998).

Previous research has also consistently demonstrated abnormalities in the P300 (or P3) wave, a positive deflection of the event-related potential (ERP) that occurs approximately 300 milliseconds (ms) after the onset of a stimulus, is maximal at posterior scalp locations (Fz

In terms of personality traits, premeditated and impulsive aggressors share many basic attributes, such as impulsivity, anger, hostility, and verbal and physical aggression (Stanford, Houston, Villemarette-Pittman et al. …

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