A Direct Assessment of the Role of State and Trait Negative Emotion in Aggressive Behavior
AbstractAffective priming of aggression was examined in groups low and high in trait negative emotionality (NEM) using a Buss aggression paradigm. Negative affect was induced by exposure to aversive air blasts during some intervals ( ) and not others ( ). Phasic negative affect was assessed using startle reflex potentiation, and tonic distress was indexed by startle sensitization. Participants delivered shocks faster during threat versus safe intervals, indicating that phasic distress primed aggression. Following initial exposure to air blasts, high NEM participants showed enhanced tonic distress and delivered persistently more intense shocks than low NEM participants. These findings indicate that sustained negative affect biases high stress-reactive individuals toward more intense acts of aggression, with phasic distress affecting the rapidity of aggressive response.