Role of experience in processing bias for aggressive words in forensic and non-forensic populations

Paul Smith, Mitch Waterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Research is beginning to suggest that elevated levels of anger may influence responses in traditional cognitive tests of attention. To date research has focused upon nonforensic samples, and trait and state levels of anger. If individuals who are habitually aggressive demonstrate processing bias then it is likely that other constructs such as aggressiveness, hostility, and impulsivity will also be correlated with any bias performance. We attempted to extend the research by also considering the role of aggressive experience and impulsivity in such bias by using a group of offenders (n = 50) from prisons in the North of England and undergraduates (n = 30) from a university in the North of England. We hypothesised that violent offenders (as classified by their index offence) would demonstrate delayed responses when presented with aggressive stimuli as targets in a thematically primed version of the traditional dot-probe task, due to the activation of associated representational structures by a violently themed vignette when compared to a neutral vignette. We also hypothesised that the violent offenders would become distracted when searching for a neutral word target which was surrounded by aggressive words in a visual search task [Cohen et al., 1998] leading to delayed responses compared to a neutral word surrounded by negatively or positively themed emotion words. Finally, we hypothesised that undergraduates with elevated levels of aggressiveness would also show similar (albeit attenuated) biases for these materials. Violent offenders demonstrated significant response biases to aggression words in both tests. This effect was also found in the aggressive undergraduates (as classified by their scores on the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire). These data confirm the saliency of aggression words to aggressive individuals across populations. The objective nature of these tests, together with their resilience to deception, may offer a useful tool in the assessment and treatment of aggressive individuals
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-122
Number of pages18
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Attentional bias
  • Impulsivity
  • Offenders


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