Date of Award

5-2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Todd Moore

Committee Members

Deborah Rhatigan, Kristina Gordon

Abstract

Interpersonal violence has been identified as one of our nation’s most important public health concerns and has been empirically linked with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to better understand the relationship between PTSD and violence, we used Chemtob’s (1997) Survival Mode model to examine the role of two potentially important proximal factors linking PTSD to violence; cognitive attributions and negative affect. Congruent with theory and previous research, we hypothesized that PTSD would be related to aggression, and that cognitive attributions and negative affect would moderate the relationship between these variables.

Undergraduate students (N = 628) completed an online screening study to assess PTSD symptomatology. Based on screening results, 99 participants were recruited and categorized as having elevated PTSD symptomatology (High-PTSD) or minimal symptomatology (Low-PTSD). Eligible participants completed questionnaires assessing trauma history, psychopathology, attitudes towards violence, and history of violent behavior. Participants then completed the Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP), a lab-based behavioral measure of aggression, in which participants competed against a confederate and had points subtracted on a pre-programmed interval schedule. After completing this task, participants completed measures assessing negative affect and attributions experienced during the PSAP procedure.

Results demonstrate that High-PTSD participants engaged in significantly more aggressive responding on the PSAP than did Low-PTSD participants. Further, High- PTSD participants reported more negative affect than did low-PTSD participants, and a trend approaching significance suggested that High-PTSD participants tended to make more negative intent attributions regarding confederates’ behavior than did low-PTSD participants. Contrary to our hypotheses, findings revealed that negative affect and attributions were unrelated to aggressive responding and did not moderate the relationship between PTSD symptomatology and aggressive responding.

It is possible that the retrospective reporting of negative affect and attributions limited the ability to detect moderation effects in the present study. Implications of the findings are discussed and future research is called for in order to better explicate the complex relationship between PTSD symptomatology and aggression.

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