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Anger Management Classes: Why Some People React Aggressively Without Provocation While Others Don't, Says New Study

Aggressiveness and irritability found to be associated with aggressive behavior even in the absence of provocation

WASHINGTON, DC — Specific personality variables, such as anger or irritability predict the tendency to either engage in aggressive behavior willingly or to engage in aggressive behavior when provoked, according to a recent meta-analysis in the September issue of Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In a review of 63 studies, psychologist Ann Bettencourt, PhD and coauthors Amelia Talley, MA, University of Missouri – Columbia, Arlin James Benjamin, PhD, Panhandle State University, and Jeffery Valentine, PhD, Duke University, examined the association between personality variables and aggressive behavior, under provoking and relatively neutral conditions.

The following personality variables were identified: trait aggressiveness, trait irritability, trait anger, Type A personality, dissipation-rumination, emotional susceptibility (tendency to feel inadequate or vulnerable), narcissism, and impulsivity. Study participants ranging from 7 years old to 48 years old were subjected to different types of provoking situations such as verbal insults, frustration in the form of difficult puzzles, physical aggression, loud noises and disparaging comments. Neutral comparison conditions were similar to those in the provoking conditions but lacked insulting, irritating, and frustrating situations.

Persons identified as having an aggressive and irritable personality were more likely to engage in aggressive behavior regardless of whether situations were provoking. “This may suggest that these persons have the capacity to engage in cold-blooded style of aggressive behavior, reacting harshly as a result to little or no agitation” said lead author B. Ann Bettencourt.

The review also found that personality variables, and the level of provocation, interact to influence aggressive behavior. For instance, people who are Type A personalities, have a tendency to express anger (trait anger), have self-destructive tendencies and mull-over upsetting situations, are emotional susceptible, narcissistic and for the most part impulsive were more likely to behave aggressively only under provoking conditions. This type of reaction is considered “hot-blooded” because a person is usually upset by the provoking situation, which induces the aggressive behavior. Bettencourt and her colleagues labeled the two different patterns of associations between personality and aggressive behavior as aggression-prone and provocation-sensitive.

“Problems with aggression and violence continue to plague people’s interpersonal life, their intergroup interactions, and society in general. Social scientists need to develop a better understanding of the complex dynamics among personality variables, situational variables, and aggressive behavior to gain a better understanding of human aggression. The knowledge gained from further research will refine therapeutic and policy interventions aimed at reducing aggression and violence,” stated Bettencourt.

Source: B. Ann Bettencourt, PhD, Amelia Talley, MA, University of Missouri – Columbia; Arlin James Benjamin, PhD, Panhandle State University; Jeffery Valentine, PhD, Duke University; Psychological Bulletin, Vol.132 No.5.

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