Alcohol intoxication, self-regulation, and escalation of aggression during dating conflict

Stappenbeck, Cynthia Ann
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College-aged individuals experience verbal and physical dating aggression at high rates, which is troubling given the associated deleterious consequences. Verbal and physical aggression are highly correlated, with verbal aggression often serving as a precursor to physical aggression. The current studies examined factors that may influence the likelihood and escalation of dating aggression in response to a dating conflict scenario, including alcohol intoxication, self-regulation, and trait aggressivity. Study 1 assessed the construct validity of a newly developed audio-taped scenario of mutual aggression as well as a hot sauce task. Men and women with (n=31) and without (n=30) a history of past-year dating aggression provided responses to the conflict scenario using the Articulated Thoughts in Simulated Situations (ATSS) procedure. Under the guise of an assessment of sensitivity, participants allocated hot sauce for a fictitious participant to consume. Results supported the construct validity of the conflict scenario but not the hot sauce task, which was therefore not included in Study 2. Study 2 examined the influence of alcohol's pharmacological and expectancy effects as well as one’s ability to self-regulate thoughts, feelings, and behavior on aggression intentions in response to the mutual aggression conflict scenario. Participants were randomized to either receive alcohol (n=48; blood alcohol content M = .082%), placebo (n=48), or no alcohol (n=48). Using ATSS procedures identical to Study 1, intoxicated individuals articulated more verbal aggression intentions overall and exhibited a greater increase across the conflict scenario than those who did not receive alcohol, but did not differ from those who received placebo. There were no effects of alcohol on physical aggression intentions. Individuals who received placebo and who were poorer at suppressing emotions articulated more verbal aggression intentions than intoxicated individuals. Additionally, individuals higher in trait aggressivity articulated more physical aggression intentions and intoxicated individuals with lower relationship satisfaction articulated more verbal aggression intentions. Results suggest that both the pharmacological and expectancy effects of alcohol were important to the occurrence of aggression. Whereas higher trait aggressivity and lower relationship satisfaction may be risk  factors  for  aggression,  regulating  one’s  emotions  may  reduce  the frequency of aggression.