Relationships of impulsivity and physical fighting history to alcohol -induced aggression in women

Dawn Marie Blanchette Marsh, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Research suggests women respond to the aggression-inducing effects of alcohol in a manner similar to men. Highly aggressive men are more prone to alcohol-induced aggression, but this relationship is less clear for women. This study examined whether alcohol consumption would differentially affect laboratory-measured aggression in a sample of aggressive and non-aggressive women and how those differences might be related to components of impulsive behavior. In 39 women recruited from the community (two groups: with and without histories of physical fighting) ages 21–40, laboratory aggressive behavior was assessed following placebo and 0.80 g/kg alcohol consumption (all women experienced both conditions). Baseline laboratory impulsive behavior of three impulsivity models was later assessed in the same women. In the aggression model (PSAP), participants were provoked by periodic subtractions of money, which were blamed on a fictitious partner. Aggression was operationalized as the responses the participant made to subtract money from that partner. The three components of impulsivity that were tested included: (1) response initiation (IMT/DMT), premature responses made prior to the completion of stimulus processing, (2) response inhibition (GoStop), a failure to inhibit an already initiated response, and (3) consequence sensitivity (SKIP and TCIP), the choice for a smaller-sooner reward over a larger-later reward. I hypothesized that, compared to women with no history of physical fighting, women with a history of physical fighting would exhibit higher rates of alcohol-induced laboratory aggression and higher rates of baseline impulsive responding (particularly for the IMT/DMT), which would also be related to the alcohol-induced increases aggression. Consistent with studies in men, the aggressive women showed strong associations between laboratory aggression and self-report measures, while the non-aggressive women did not. However, unlike men, following alcohol consumption it was the non-aggressive women's laboratory aggression that was related to their self-reports of aggression and impulsivity. Additionally, response initiation measures of impulsivity distinguished the two groups, while response inhibition and consequence sensitivity measures did not; commission error rates on the IMT/DMT were higher in the aggressive women compared to the non-aggressive women. Regression analyses of the behavioral measures showed no relationship between the aggression and impulsivity performance of the two groups. These results suggest that the behavioral (and potentially biological) mechanism underlying aggressive behavior of women is different than that of men.

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Recommended Citation

Marsh, Dawn Marie Blanchette, "Relationships of impulsivity and physical fighting history to alcohol -induced aggression in women" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3138883.