Relations Between Traumatic Stress, Dimensions of Impulsivity, and Reactive and Appetitive Aggression in Individuals With Refugee Status

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Abstract

Objective: Traumatic stressors and other forms of adversities, especially when experienced during childhood, shape aggressive behavior. Effects of differential dimensions of impulsivity on the relationship between psychological trauma, reactive aggression (defensive survival response to threat), and appetitive aggression (the pleasure of attacking and fighting) have not yet been assessed. Method: Using structural equation modeling, we sought to uncover precursors of reactive and appetitive aggression investigating a sample of 94 adult individuals with refugee status. We were interested in direct effects of childhood maltreatment and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and indirect effects via impulsivity dimensions. Results: For reactive aggression there was a direct link between childhood maltreatment and (a) PTSD symptoms and (b) marginal sensation seeking. Childhood maltreatment and sensation seeking best predicted appetitive aggression. There was no evidence for indirect effects of impulsivity. Conclusions: Fear-driven response to perceived threat based on inadequate cognitive appraisal is assumed to cause pathological reactive aggression, whereas excessive appetitive aggression can be explained by repeated experiences of thrill and excitement during violent acts. Prevention of early traumatic stress and adversities seems key to breaking the cycle of violence.

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