Published:  2022-02

Neurobiological Responses towards Stimuli Depicting Aggressive Interactions in Delinquent Young Adults and Controls: No Relation to Reactive and Proactive Aggression

Authors:  Janna F. ter Harmsel, Josanne D. M. van Dongen, Josjan Zijlmans, Thimo M. van der Pol, Reshmi Marhe, Arne Popma

Tags:  aggressive behavior, electrophysiology, emotion regulation, psychophysiology, reactivity, young adulthood

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Neurobiological measures underlying aggressive behavior have gained attention due to their potential to inform risk assessment and treatment interventions. Aberrations in responsivity of the autonomic nervous system and electrophysiological responses to arousal-inducing stimuli have been related to emotional dysregulation and aggressive behavior. However, studies have often been performed in community samples, using tasks that induce arousal but not specifically depict aggression. In this study, we examined differences in psychophysiological (i.e., heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, skin conductance level) and electrophysiological responses (i.e., P3, late positive potential, mu suppression) to aggressive versus neutral scenes in a sample of 118 delinquent young adults and 25 controls (all male, aged 18–27). With respect to group differences, we only found significant higher SCL reactivity during the task in the delinquent group compared to controls, but this was irrespective of condition (aggressive and neutral interactions). Within the delinquent group, we also examined associations between the neurobiological measures and reactive and proactive aggression. No significant associations were found. Therefore, although we found some indication of emotional dysregulation in these delinquent young adults, future studies should further elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms underlying emotional dysregulation in relation to different types of aggression.