Retrospective accounts of recurrent parental physical abuse as a predictor of adult laboratory-induced aggression



Child abuse has been frequently associated with adult aggression in its many forms. The Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP) is a popular laboratory-based procedure derived from the retaliatory responses of participants engaged in a monetary-reinforced computer game. PSAP responses have been found to discriminate between participants with and without violent, antisocial, substance abuse, and even contact-sport athletic histories. The present study provided an initial test of the sensitivity of the PSAP and the Overt Aggression Scale (OAS) in discriminating between college students (n=28) with and without reported histories of recurrent physical abuse as defined by incidents of being pushed, shoved, struck, punched, or threatened with physical violence by a parent more than once every six weeks over 15 years of upbringing. PSAP responses were substantially higher (d=2.1) among participants reporting histories of recurrent parental physical abuse, with 46% (as opposed to 0% for controls) of these individuals generating PSAP responses in excess of 400 (average found for violent parolees). Group differences on the OAS were also considerable (>1 SD). Larger factorial designs examining relationships between a range of developmental variables (e.g., domestic abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, parental divorce, family climate, etc.) and adult PSAP responding may help advance present knowledge regarding the impact of childhood adversity on psychological development. Aggr. Behav. 30:217–228, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.