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Psychiatry Res. 2010 Apr 30;176(2-3):246-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2008.12.013. Epub 2010 Mar 6.

Attentional bias towards negative affect stimuli and reactive aggression in male batterers.

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Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.


Spouse abuse is listed as a V code in DSM-IV-TR and worthy of further clinical investigation, although research has focused predominantly on the victims of family violence rather than the batterers themselves. This study tests the hypotheses that (a) batterers have a neurocognitive bias favoring negative affect (aggressive) stimuli and (b) batterers are more characterized by reactive than proactive aggression. Tasks were administered to 23 male batterers and 24 controls to assess attentional bias to both negative affect stimuli (emotional Stroop) and affectively neutral stimuli (cognitive Stroop). Batterers relative to controls showed longer reaction times in naming the color of negative affect words than affectively neutral words. No such abnormality was observed for the non-affective cognitive control task. Results remained significant after controlling for comorbid depression. Batterers scored significantly higher on reactive (but not proactive) aggression. Results suggest that batterers may have a bias in allocating more attentional resources to aggressive words, potentially making them over-sensitive to negative affect stimuli in the environment. Future treatment programs addressing this neurocognitive abnormality may be more successful in reducing spouse abuse.

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