Beyond Anger Control: Difficulty Attending to Emotions Also Predicts Aggression in Offenders

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Abstract

Objective:

The influence of anger experience, expression, and control on aggressive behavior has been the focus of much theoretical and empirical attention. The influence of other emotions and emotional processing facets on aggression has received less consideration. This study sought to determine whether failing to attend to upsetting emotions, including anger, is associated with aggression, beyond the effects of poor anger control.

Method:

Participants (n = 64) were criminal offenders who were mandated to attend Community Corrections Offices across Melbourne, Australia. Participants completed measures of anger experience, expression and control, attention to emotions, past aggression, and verbal intelligence.

Results:

Results indicate that participants reporting difficulty attending to their emotions had more extensive histories of aggression than those who did not report such difficulties. This relationship remained significant even after controlling for trait anger and the ability to control the outward expression of anger.

Conclusions:

These findings are discussed in the context of current approaches to violent offender treatment. In particular, it is recommended that intervention programs should seek to emphasize the importance of controlling aggressive behavior in the face of anger, while attending to (rather than avoiding or suppressing) the anger experience itself.

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