Proactive aggression: A two part study

Sylvain Olivier Nouvion, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Aggressive behavior can be divided into the subtypes: reactive and proactive. Reactive aggressive acts occur in response to a stimulus or provocation. Proactive aggressive acts occur without provocation and are goal-directed. A number of findings have suggested that individuals displaying proactive aggression may be discerned from individuals not displaying proactive aggression on measures of personality, psychopathology and psychopathy, as well as on aggressive histories and type and severity of aggressive behaviors committed. The current study was conducted in two phases; phase 1 and 2. This was because phase 1 compared proactive aggressive, reactive aggressive and non-aggressive subjects on questionnaire measures, while phase 2 observed the acute effects of the benzodiazepine alprazolam on only proactive aggressive subjects. The phase 1 hypotheses were that proactive aggressive subjects would show greater numbers of personality disorders and have greater psychopathy relative to reactive and non-aggressive subjects. To verify these hypotheses subjects were recruited from the community and classified as proactive (n = 20), reactive (n = 20) or non-aggressive (n = 10) via laboratory behavioral testing. Classified subjects were administered a battery of questionnaires pertaining to personality disorders (SCID-II, OMNI-IV), psychopathy (PCL-R) and aggression history. The results of these questionnaire measures were subjected to statistical analyses, which confirmed the hypotheses. In the second phase, the acute effects of three doses of the benzodiazepine alprazolam were evaluated in proactive aggressive subjects on proactive aggressive responding in the computer-based Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP). In phase 2 it was hypothesized that alprazolam would produce dose dependent decreases in aggressive responding. Subjects were never provoked in this phase, and aggressive responding was classified as proactive. Studies of drugs acting on the GABA system have frequently found decreases in aggression in animals and humans, although there have also been findings of increased (paradoxical) aggression. The hypothesis was tested by statistical analysis of proactive aggressive responding under placebo vs. under alprazolam. The hypothesis was supported by six of seven subjects. Aggressive responding was significantly, decreased under alprazolam relative to placebo in six subjects. One subject showed increases in aggressive responding.

Subject Area

Neurology|Pharmacology|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Nouvion, Sylvain Olivier, "Proactive aggression: A two part study" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3231745.