Examining the Role of Facial Affect Recognition In The Relation Between Physiological Reactivity And Aggression During Marital Conflict



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Understanding the affective mechanisms that underlie aggression and violence within interpersonal relationships is vital to the development of treatments that will reduce recidivism. Researchers examining physiological factors of emotion have identified differential patterns of physiological reactivity among different types of intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrators during interpersonal conflict. Although it is unclear what mechanisms are influencing these distinct physiological patterns, research suggests that perpetrators’ ability to decode emotions may be involved. The current study examined the effects of physiological reactivity on observed aggression of male IPV perpetrators during marital conflict across levels of facial affect recognition (FAR) accuracy. In particular, we examined the sympathetic nervous system, via Skin Conductance Level (SCL) Reactivity, and the parasympathetic nervous system, via Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) reactivity. Secondary data analyses were conducted on a previous study examining heterosexual couples with past male to female IPV perpetration. Couples completed self-report measures and participated in a conflict discussion regarding a topic of conflict with their partner while physiological and behavioral measures were recorded. Additionally, males were administered a facial affect recognition task. Results suggest that RSA and SCL reactivity had a significant effect on male observed aggression at high FAR accuracy. Specifically, co-deactivation of both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity was associated with increased observed aggressive behavior. Our result suggests a dual physiological model of affect reactive aggression: parasympathetic withdrawal indicative of emotional dysregulation, and sympathetic attenuation associated with behavioral disinhibition.



Intimate partner violence, Autonomic nervous system, Aggression