Published:  2022-06-01

Sympathetic Nervous System Predominance in Intimate Partner Violence Perpetrators After Coping With Acute Stress

Authors:  A. Romero-Martínez, M. Lila, L. Moya-Albiol


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It has been suggested that intimate partner violence (IPV) against women perpetrators present emotional dysregulations when dealing with acute stress, which in turn could help to explain their proneness to violence. Emotional regulation can be objectively measured by means of psychophysiological parameters/variables/indicators of autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity, such as cardiorespiratory (heart rate [HR], pre-ejection period [PEP] and respiratory sinus arrythmia [RSA]) and electrodermal (skin conductance levels [SCL]) signals. Therefore, this study aims to assess whether IPV perpetrators (n = 107) present differential psychophysiological and psychological state changes when coping with an acute cognitive laboratory stressor (a set of cognitive tests performed in front of an expert committee) in comparison with nonviolent men (n = 87). Moreover, the study assesses whether psychological state variables foster the psychophysiological response to acute stress. Our results demonstrate that, compared to nonviolent controls, IPV perpetrators showed higher HR and SCL values, shorter PEP, and lower RSA values during recovery from stress. They also presented higher negative affect (i.e., more anger and worse mood) after stress. Thus, high baseline anger explained the increases in emotional arousal when measured as SCL increases. The present study contributes evidence showing that IPV perpetrators and nonviolent men cope differently with stress. These findings might help forensic science to identify characteristics of violent individuals to establish their therapeutic needs. Furthermore, it would be appropriate to combine psychophysiological measurements with self-reports, thus increasing the reliability of the assessment of violent individuals.