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Neurocognitive Predictors of Aggressive Behavior
Violence and aggression are of major concern to society, and can be observed across mental health problems. In this larger health context, aggression has transdiagnostic relevance and represents a tractable externalizing behavior with links to key pathological personality constructs of callousness and disinhibition/dysregulation. Our prior research has found that aggression proneness is associated with increased problems with inhibitory and cognitive control, particularly in the context of emotional or threat contexts—indicating that threat-related disruptions of cognitive control represent risk for aggression and other externalizing problems. The current study examined whether neurocognitive indicators of this disruption can predict subsequent aggression in the lab and in real life (according to informant reports). A diverse sample of community participants (N = 111) underwent an attention network task under shock threat (Session 1) and an emotional go/no-go task (Session 2), as fear-potentiated startle and/or EEG were recorded. Following the emotional go/no-go task in Session 2, they participated in a laboratory aggression paradigm, where they administered different levels of shocks or no shocks to a confederate, and close friends/partners/relatives were asked to complete measures of the participants’ violence and aggression within and outside of relationships. Preliminary findings indicated that reduced cognitive control processing, particularly under threat or negative emotional conditions (indexed by reduced flanker P3 amplitude in Session 1 and reduced No-Go P3 in Session 2) predicted increased shock intensity in the laboratory aggression paradigm. Implications for developing novel science-based approaches to violence prevention will be discussed.