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Behav Sci Law. 1998 Summer;16(3):285-302.

Defining, measuring, and predicting impulsive aggression: a heuristic model.

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  • 1University of Texas Medical Branch, Dept of Psychiatry, Galveston, USA.


Aggression research does not lack data--it lacks a model for integrating data. One of the problems confronting aggression researchers is the extensive body of multidisciplinary data that is difficult to synthesize to generate new directions in research. This paper proposes one solution that starts by asking "what is the minimal number of categories of concepts and measurements which are necessary to describe a person?". The answer is four categories of concepts: biological; cognitive; behavioral; environmental (physical and social). One way of many for integrating these four categories of concepts is a proposed discipline neutral heuristic model that is used herein to compare two different research approaches to the study of impulsive aggression. This comparison identifies clearly the differences in the two approaches with regard to different emphases among the four categories of constructs for each program. Using the model an example of common ground between the two approaches is sought as a basis for extending aggression research. The main conclusion of one of the research programs was that central nervous arousal is related to impulsive aggression. This program demonstrated that phenytoin will reduce impulsive aggressive acts and has an effect on CNS arousal. The other research program on impulsive aggression has been at the forefront in demonstrating the well established inverse relationship between serotonin levels and aggression. The comparison resulted in the suggestion that both serotonin and phenytoin may relate to a common neurochemical substrate which interacts in part to control CNS arousal, especially at the cortical level. The proposed heuristic model made obvious the need to use synthesizing concepts (e.g. information processing or language) which can interrelate multidisciplinary concepts and data from different research programs within the four categories of constructs when comparing interdisciplinary research.

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