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Instrumental or goal-directed aggression is a core feature in violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies. To understand this type of behavior, previous work in the field of aggression has focused on affective processing, with mixed results. We propose that instrumental aggression is best understood in terms of the consequences of affective processing for instrumental behavior rather than affective processing per se. Therefore, we assessed the degree of affective biasing of instrumental action in a group of violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies and healthy controls using a validated affective decision-making task. Participants learned whole body approach-avoidance actions upon instrumental targets based on monetary feedback, while being primed by aversive versus appetitive facial stimuli. Unlike controls, instrumental behavior in violent offenders was not influenced by the affective stimuli. Specifically, violent offenders showed reduced instrumental avoidance in the context of aversive (vs. appetitive) stimuli relative to controls. This finding suggests that reduced affective biasing of instrumental behavior may underlie the behavioral anomalies observed in violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies. More generally, the finding underscores the relevance of examining the interaction between affect and instrumental behavior for a better understanding of dysfunctional behaviors in psychiatric populations.
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BRIEF REPORT
Reduced Transfer of Affective Value to Instrumental Behavior
in Violent Offenders
Verena Ly
Radboud University Nijmegen
Anna Katinka Louise von Borries and
Inti Angelo Brazil
Radboud University Nijmegen and Pompestichting, Nijmegen,
the Netherlands
Behrend Hendrik Bulten
Pompestichting, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
Roshan Cools
Radboud University Nijmegen and Radboud University
Medical Center
Karin Roelofs
Radboud University Nijmegen
Instrumental or goal-directed aggression is a core feature in violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies.
To understand this type of behavior, previous work in the field of aggression has focused on affective
processing, with mixed results. We propose that instrumental aggression is best understood in terms of the
consequences of affective processing for instrumental behavior rather than affective processing per se.
Therefore, we assessed the degree of affective biasing of instrumental action in a group of violent offenders
with psychopathic tendencies and healthy controls using a validated affective decision-making task. Partici-
pants learned whole body approach-avoidance actions upon instrumental targets based on monetary feedback,
while being primed by aversive versus appetitive facial stimuli. Unlike controls, instrumental behavior in
violent offenders was not influenced by the affective stimuli. Specifically, violent offenders showed reduced
instrumental avoidance in the context of aversive (vs. appetitive) stimuli relative to controls. This finding
suggests that reduced affective biasing of instrumental behavior may underlie the behavioral anomalies
observed in violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies. More generally, the finding underscores the
relevance of examining the interaction between affect and instrumental behavior for a better understanding of
dysfunctional behaviors in psychiatric populations.
General Scientific Summary
Goal-directed aggression is a core feature in violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies. Our
findings suggest that violent offenders show reduced affective influence on instrumental behavior
compared to healthy controls, possibly contributing to aggressive behaviors in this population.
Keywords: violent offenders, psychopathic tendencies, affective biasing, instrumental action, decision making
Supplemental materials: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/abn0000166.supp
Verena Ly, Behavioural Science Institute and Donders Institute for
Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging,
Radboud University Nijmegen; Anna Katinka Louise von Borries, Behav-
ioural Science Institute and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and
Behaviour, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Ni-
jmegen and Pompestichting, Nijmegen, the Netherlands; Inti Angelo Bra-
zil, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Centre for
Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen and Pompesticht-
ing; Behrend Hendrik Bulten, Pompestichting; Roshan Cools, Donders
Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Centre for Cognitive Neu-
roimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen and Department of Psychiatry,
Radboud University Medical Center; Karin Roelofs, Behavioural Science
Institute and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Centre
for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This study was supported by Mosaic Grant 017.007.043 from the Nether-
lands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded to Verena Ly;
Starting Grant ERC_StG2012_313749 from the European Research Council,
VICI Grant 453–12-001 (NWO), and a grant from the Research and Docu-
mentation Centre of the Dutch Ministry of Safety and Justice awarded to Karin
Roelofs; and a James McDonnell Scholar Award awarded to Roshan Cools.
The authors reported no biomedical financial interests. Roshan Cools has been
a consultant, but not an employee or stock shareholder, for Abbott laboratories
and Pfizer. Karin Roelofs and Roshan Cools contributed equally to this work.
We thank S. Jellema and M. de Vries for assistance in data-acquisition, and P.
de Water for technical assistance.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Verena
Ly, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for
Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, Kapittelweg 29,
6500 HB, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. E-mail: v.ly@donders.ru.nl
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology © 2016 American Psychological Association
2016, Vol. 124, No. 4, 000 0021-843X/16/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/abn0000166
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Instrumental or goal-directed aggression is a core feature in
violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies. Typically, these
offenders are not affected by social affective cues that would
normally discourage violent instrumental acts. For instance, the
facial expression of a suffering victim would not hinder the use of
violence to obtain a victim’s money in these individuals (Glenn &
Raine, 2009). To explain such behavior, previous work in the field
of aggression has largely focused on alterations in affective pro-
cessing, with mixed results. Some studies have reported abnormal-
ities in the processing of aversive affect (Blair, 1999;Blair et al.,
2004;House & Milligan, 1976;Lykken, 1957;Patrick, Bradley, &
Lang, 1993), whereas other studies have not found such abnor-
malities in violent offenders with psychopathic tendencies (Arnett,
Smith, & Newman, 1997;Glass & Newman, 2009;Newman &
Kosson, 1986;von Borries et al., 2010). In contrast with these
studies, here we applied insights from contemporary literature on
the interaction between affect and instrumental behavior. Rather
than studying affective processing per se, we propose that an
understanding of instrumental aggression requires us to study the
consequences of affective processing for instrumental action. In
the current study, we tested the hypothesis that violent offenders
with psychopathic tendencies exhibit reduced affective influence
on instrumental action.
Instrumental behavior refers to actions that are outcome-
oriented. It is well-known that instrumental behavior can be biased
by affect (Damasio, 1997). The impact of affect on instrumental
behavior is illustrated, for example, by the finding that chicks
cannot learn to run away from a food cup in order to obtain food
(Hershberger, 1986). In this example, the (appetitive) affective
value of food is naturally coupled with an innate tendency to
approach the food. This affective approach response hampers the
instrumental run-away (or avoidance) response to obtain the food.
Such affective biasing also exists in humans as evidenced by
empirical work, where aversive and appetitive stimuli have been
shown to facilitate or suppress instrumental responses (Bray, Ran-
gel, Shimojo, Balleine, & O’Doherty, 2008;Cavanagh, Eisenberg,
Guitart-Masip, Huys, & Frank, 2013;Geurts, Huys, Ouden, &
Cools, 2013a;Guitart-Masip, Duzel, Dolan, & Dayan, 2014;Lovi-
bond, Chen, Mitchell, & Weidemann, 2013;Ly, Huys, Stins,
Roelofs, & Cools, 2014;Talmi, Seymour, Dayan, & Dolan, 2008).
Thus, appetitive and aversive values transfer to and interact with
instrumental behavior. Generally, affective biasing of behavior is
crucial for healthy adaptive behavior (Damasio, 1997). Abnormal
interactions between affect and instrumental behavior have been
suggested to play an important role in behavioral anomalies ob-
served in psychiatric disorders (Dayan, Niv, Seymour, & Daw,
2006;Seymour & Dolan, 2008) and aggression in particular
(Crockett & Cools, 2015;Geurts, Huys, den Ouden, & Cools,
2013b).
To study affective biasing of instrumental behavior in relation to
aggression, we compared a group of violent offenders with varying
degrees of psychopathic tendencies to a group of healthy controls on
a recently developed paradigm, in which we combined an affective
decision-making task with a stepping platform (Ly et al., 2014). The
task required participants to learn by trial and error, based on mone-
tary outcomes, to make whole body approach/avoidance actions in
response to instrumental targets, while being primed by affective
(angry/happy) faces. Using this paradigm, we have previously shown
in healthy participants that angry (vs. happy) face-primes facilitate
instrumental avoidance (vs. instrumental approach), indicating affec-
tive biasing of instrumental action (Ly et al., 2014). We hypothesized
that affective biasing would be reduced in violent offenders (vs.
controls). Thus, we anticipated that violent offenders would exhibit
reduced potentiation of instrumental avoidance (vs. approach) by
angry (vs. happy) face-primes.
Method
Participants
Thirty-eight male inmates were recruited from high-security
forensic psychiatric institutes (Pompestichting and Oldenkotte) in
the Netherlands. They have received a court-imposed placement
under a hospital order with at least four years of imprisonment for
committing violence offenses repeatedly, including murder,
slaughter, battery, rape, while suffering from psychiatric illness or
disorder. As a control group, 19 healthy men, without criminal
records and a history of psychiatric disorders were recruited from
the staff of the same institutes. Considering the uniqueness of the
population, the testing environment, and the time period when
testing was possible, these were the maximum numbers of inclu-
sion (we aimed for a total of 40 violent offenders and 20 controls).
For a detailed description of the characteristics of the sample, see
online supplementary material.
Following previous studies (Brazil et al., 2011;von Borries et al.,
2010,2012), exclusion criteria were all major Axis-I and Axis-II
disorders except for cluster B personality disorders in violent offend-
ers, psychotropic medication, cannabis or other drug use one week
before, alcohol or oxazepam use within 24 hr before experiment,
visual disorder, and neurological disorder. Furthermore, individuals
with conditions affecting posture and limb movements—not eligible
for the experimental task—were excluded.
All participants received oral and written information about the
experiment and gave written informed consent. They received
payment as a reimbursement for participation. The study was
performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and
approved by the local ethical committee.
Experimental Paradigm
Following Ly et al. (2014), we combined the affective decision-
making task with a balance board to assess the degree to which
whole body instrumental actions are influenced by affective face
stimuli (see Figure 1). Participants performed the affective
decision-making task on the balance board, which allows accurate
assessment of bodily movement (see Figure 1B). Affective and
instrumental visual stimuli were presented on a screen in front of
them while performing the task. During the task, participants had
to learn optimal responses— by trial and error—to instrumental
targets based on monetary feedback (wins/losses of 0.20). Instru-
mental responses consisted of whole body go- and no-go-
responses upon the instrumental targets (see Figure 1B). Partici-
pants responded in two action-contexts, an approach- or an
avoidance-context, indicating whether a go-response upon an in-
strumental target was an approach- or an avoidance-action (see
Figure 1A). The action-contexts alternated in blocks. To induce
affective influence on the instrumental response, a task-irrelevant
(angry/happy) face stimulus was presented on each trial prior to
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2LY ET AL.
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the presentation of an instrumental target. This resulted in a mul-
tifactorial design, with affective prime (angry/happy), action-
context (approach/avoidance), and optimal response (go/no-go)
manipulated independently. For a detailed description of the ex-
perimental set-up and task, see the online supplementary material
or Ly et al. (2014).
Procedure
In a first session, participants were screened by interviews and
questionnaires. During the second session, participants were first
prepared for the affective decision-making task by practicing on
the balance board until they felt comfortable with stepping while
maintaining their view on the screen. They received instructions
for the task before each block of trials.
Data and Statistical Analyses
One participant responded deterministically to the affective
faces in the first block due to misunderstanding of the instructions
and was excluded from these analyses. Thus, analyses were per-
formed on data of 37 violent offenders and 19 controls.
Posturographic data-analyses were performed in MATLAB
R2009b (The MathWorks, Natick, MA). Statistical analyses were
performed using IBM SPSS Statistics 19 (IBM Corp., Armonk,
NY).
Affective Decision-Making Task
Affective biasing of instrumental action. Following Ly et al.
(2014), we calculated the proportion of instrumental go-responses
(P
go
go/[go no-go]), and reaction time (RT) of optimal
instrumental go-responses. Mixed-design analysis of variance
(ANOVA) was used for our main analyses. Two ANOVAs with
P
go
and RT as dependent variables were performed with emotion
(angry/happy) and action-context (avoidance/approach) as within-
subject variables, and group (violent offenders/controls) as
between-subjects variable to assess whether the groups differed in
affective biasing of instrumental action.
The groups differed significantly in age and IQ (see online supple-
mentary materials). Because the groups are not randomly selected,
and the covariate is a preexisting group difference, it is misguided to
control for age and IQ differences by covarying these variables; an
analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) could lead to potentially spurious
Figure 1. Panel A: Affective decision-making task. Trial events from the (1) approach block and (2) avoidance
block. After face-prime offset (3,000 ms), the instrumental target appeared, to which subjects were required to
make a go- or no-go-response within 2,500 ms. Response feedback (500 ms) was provided before the monetary
outcome (1,000 ms). In these examples a go-response had been recorded as indicated by the orange-colored
squares during the response feedback phase. The duration of the intertrial interval was 3,000 ms on average.
Panel B: Balance board apparatus (left) and examples of a go-response (right) in (1) the approach block and (2)
the avoidance block. Approach-go: sideway step on the balance board toward the side of the instrumental target
(1). Avoidance-go: sideway step on the balance board away from the side of the instrumental target (2).
Approach-/avoidance- no-go-responses involved remaining stationary at the center of the balance board. See the
online article for the color version of this figure.
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3
AFFECTIVE BIASING OF BEHAVIOR IN VIOLENT OFFENDERS
OC
NO
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results (Miller & Chapman, 2001). We therefore conducted the anal-
yses without controlling for these differences in age and IQ. To
explore and rule out any potential influence of age and IQ, additional
analysis with a subsample of the violent offenders that best matched
the control group-average on age and IQ was conducted. These
additional analyses yielded comparable results with the primary anal-
yses (see online supplemental materials).
Accuracy. To assess whether performance was above chance
for the violent offenders and the controls separately, we tested the
proportion of optimal responses against 0.50 using one-sample
ttests. Moreover, a one-way ANOVA with group (violent offend-
ers/controls) as factor and the proportion of optimal responses as
dependent variable was used to assess whether there were group
differences in accuracy across the task as a whole. For all analyses,
significant interaction effects were followed up by simple (inter-
action) effects analyses. Alpha was set at .05.
Results
Affective Decision-Making Task
Affective biasing of instrumental action. Mean proportion
of go-responses (P
go
) and RT are presented in Table 1. Consistent
with our hypothesis, we observed reduced transfer of affective
value to instrumental action in violent offenders compared with
controls. This was substantiated by an ANOVA of P
go
revealing a
significant Group (violent offenders/controls) Emotion (angry/
happy) Action-context (avoidance/approach) interaction effect,
F
(1,54)
4.85, p.032, p
20.082, 95% CI [0.000, 0.239]. This
interaction was due to the violent offenders differing significantly
from controls in terms of their affective bias of instrumental
approach-avoidance (see Figure 2). As expected, this interaction
effect was due to the presence of an affective bias effect in the
controls, F
(1,18)
7.94, p.011, p
20.306, 95% CI [0.018,
0.550], but not in the violent offenders, F
(1,36)
0.54, p.469,
p
20.015, 95% CI [0.000, 0.160]. Specifically, post hoc simple
effects analyses suggested that the affective bias effect in controls
was driven by enhanced P
go
for instrumental avoidance after angry
versus happy faces, F
(1,18)
5.67, p.029, p
20.240, 95% CI
[0.000, 0.499]. No other significant simple (interaction) effects
were found (all Fs2.25).
The above effects were not accompanied by effects on the speed
of responding. ANOVA of RTs showed a significant main effect of
action-context (avoidance/approach), indicating that instrumental
approach was faster than instrumental avoidance in general,
F
(1,54)
13.73, p.001, p
20.203, 95% CI [0.044, 0.373], but
there were no other significant main and interaction effects (all
Fs1.00).
Accuracy. Across the task as a whole, performance was better
than chance for both the controls (M59.53, SEM 1.60),
t(18) 5.97, p.001, d1.370, 95% CI [0.728, 1.992], and the
violent offenders (M55.53, SEM 1.50), t(36) 3.75, p
.001, d0.601, 95% CI [0.261, 0.965]. Moreover, there was no
significant difference between the groups in terms of overall
accuracy, F(1, 54) 2.89, p.095, p
20.051, 95% CI [0.000,
0.195]. Finally, additional ANOVAs of P
go
with overall accuracy
as a covariate showed that our critical effect of interest (the
affective bias effect) did not vary as a function of overall accuracy
(Emotion Action Accuracy; F(1, 53) 1.46, p.132, p
2
0.027, 95% CI [0.000, 0,155].
1
Thus, the difference in affective
biasing effect between the violent offenders and controls cannot
not be explained by any effect on nonspecific cognitive processing,
such as decreased task engagement, in the violent offenders.
Discussion
The present study shows that violent offenders with psycho-
pathic tendencies exhibit reduced affective biasing of instrumental
1
Similar results were obtained using signal-detection analysis. There
was no difference between the groups in terms of d=as a sensitivity index,
F(1, 54) 0.768, p.385, p
20.014, 95% CI [0.000, 0.126]. Finally,
additional ANOVAs of P
go
with d=as a covariate showed that our critical
effect of interest (the affective bias effect) did not vary as a function of d=
(Emotion Action d=;F
(1,53)
0.053, p.819, p
20.027, 95% CI
[0.000, 0.040]).
Table 1
Data on the Affective Decision-Making Task
Violent offenders Controls
Proportion of go-responses
Avoidance
Angry 56.6 (2.3) 56.9 (1.9)
Happy 54.9 (2.0) 51.0 (2.5)
Approach
Angry 56.9 (2.2) 53.3 (1.7)
Happy 56.4 (2.2) 55.4 (1.9)
Reaction time
Avoidance
Angry 1414.4 (28.4) 1356.8 (52.8)
Happy 1421.6 (32.9) 1373.5 (55.1)
Approach
Angry 1310.4 (37.8) 1280.5 (48.3)
Happy 1301.9 (35.5) 1275.5 (44.7)
Note. Mean proportion of go-responses (%) and reaction times (ms) for
instrumental avoidance and approach (SEM) after angry and happy face
primes for the violent offenders and the control groups separately.
HC VO
-4
-2
0
2
4
6
8
10
)
OG%( yppaH su
n
im yrgnA
Avoid
Approac h
P
go
yppaH sunim yrgnA
Controls Violent offenders
Figure 2. Affective biasing of instrumental action for controls and violent
offenders. Controls (vs. violent offenders) demonstrate enhanced avoid-
ance (vs. approach) after angry versus happy faces, suggesting that the
violent offenders versus controls show a decreased affective bias effect on
instrumental action. Error bars represent standard error of the mean.
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action versus healthy controls. Specifically, instrumental avoid-
ance (vs. approach) was potentiated by angry (vs. happy) faces in
healthy controls, but not in violent offenders. This suggests that
reduced transfer of affective value to instrumental action might
represent a psychological mechanism that contributes to instru-
mental aggression observed in violent offenders.
This is the first study showing that violent offenders lack affec-
tive biasing of instrumental action. Our finding is in line with a
previous finding that violent offenders with psychopathic tenden-
cies show reduced automatic avoidance tendencies upon angry
faces (von Borries et al., 2012). However, the present study ex-
tends this prior work by showing that violent offenders show
abnormal transfer of such affective responses to instrumental
avoidance. Broader literature involving aggression have mainly
focused on affective processing per se, with inconsistent findings,
suggesting subdued affective responding (Blair et al., 2004;House
& Milligan, 1976;Lykken, 1957;Patrick et al., 1993), but also
intact or even hypersensitive affective responding (Arnett et al.,
1997;Glass & Newman, 2009;von Borries et al., 2010). The
present finding highlights the importance to investigate the con-
sequences of affective processing for instrumental action, rather
than studying affective processing per se, in order to better under-
stand behavioral anomalies. This idea is particularly relevant in
light of contemporary literature suggesting that disordered behav-
ior involves abnormal interactions between systems regulating
affective and instrumental responses (Dayan et al., 2006).
In fact, a recent fMRI study indicated that violent offenders do
not differ from controls in amygdala signaling during affective
face processing, but rather differ in the degree to which the
amygdala signaling interacts with prefrontal regions associated
with affective action control (Volman et al., 2016). In line with
this, data from our control tasks suggest that the lack of an
affective bias in the violent offenders in the current study is
unlikely to be explained by reduced affective processing per se
(see online supplementary material). These preliminary findings
need to be replicated in future studies including thorough behav-
ioral and physiological tests assessing different components of
affective processing (e.g., recognition and responding) to disen-
tangle whether our current effects are explained by reduced affec-
tive processing per se, or rather the transfer of affect to instrumen-
tal action. Furthermore, future studies could benefit from including
a neutral control condition in order to disentangle whether effects
for behavior in violent offenders were specific to the aversive or
appetitive domain (angry vs. happy).
Given the heterogeneity in the current patient sample and vio-
lent offenders in general, it is crucial for future research to tease
out what characteristics or subtypes are conceptually related to
reduced affective biasing of instrumental action. Our exploratory
analyses suggest that reduced affective biasing effect in the violent
offenders is associated with a combination of low anxiety and high
premeditative aggression score (see online supplementary mate-
rial). It is important to note, that this finding is based on self-
reports and the aggression scores were remarkably low in the
offenders considering their violence offense history. Therefore, we
cannot rule out a bias in these data, for instance through dishonest
answering. Given this inherent limitation of self-reports, especially
when applied in this type of population, we have to interpret this
result with caution (Kockler, Stanford, Nelson, Meloy, & Sanford,
2006;Kuyck, De Beurs, Barendregt, & Van den Brink, 2013).
Nevertheless, the finding is consistent with literature suggesting a
modulatory role of anxiety in subtyping of aggression (i.e., reac-
tive vs. instrumental; Crowe & Blair, 2008;Frick & Ellis, 1999).
Future research is necessary to provide a better understanding of
the current findings in relation to aggression.
In sum, the results show that violent offenders versus healthy
controls exhibited reduced transfer of affective value to instrumen-
tal behavior. Our findings converge with the clinical observation
that individuals with a violence offense history are typically not
affected by social affective cues that would discourage instrumen-
tally aggressive acts (Glenn & Raine, 2009). This finding under-
scores the relevance of examining the interaction between affec-
tive processes and instrumental action for a better understanding of
aggression-related anomalies. Finally, this research offers a new
approach to investigate the role of affective biasing of behavior in
different psychopathological conditions.
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386769a0
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AFFECTIVE BIASING OF BEHAVIOR IN VIOLENT OFFENDERS
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Received August 31, 2015
Revision received April 8, 2016
Accepted April 11, 2016
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AFFECTIVE BIASING OF BEHAVIOR IN VIOLENT OFFENDERS
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... Allowing predictors of aversive outcome (i.e., aversive Pavlovian CS) to influence behavior thus might instigate adaptive behavior. Moreover, aberrant Pavlovian mechanisms, e.g., too much appetitive attraction and/or too little aversive inhibition, are thought to play a role in psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, different anxiety disorders, addiction (Huys et al., 2015;Heinz et al., 2016;Mkrtchian et al., 2017) and personality disorders associated with impulsive behaviors (Ly et al., 2016;. It has been proposed that not only actions are under the influence of Pavlovian inhibitory mechanisms, but also our thoughts (Huys et al., 2012;Mendelsohn et al., 2014). ...
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Background Control over the tendency to make or withhold responses guided by contextual Pavlovian information plays a key role in understanding impulsivity and hyperactivity. Here we set out to assess (1) the understudied relation between contextual Pavlovian inhibitory control and hyperactivity/impulsivity in adults with ADHD and (2) whether this inhibition can be enhanced by mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Methods Within the framework of a randomized controlled trial 50 Adult ADHD patients were assessed before and after 8 weeks of treatment as usual (TAU) with ( n = 24) or without ( n = 26) MBCT. We employed a well-established behavioral Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer task that quantifies Pavlovian inhibitory control over instrumental behavior. Results Task results revealed (1) less aversive Pavlovian inhibition in ADHD patients with clinically relevant hyperactivity/impulsivity than in those without; and (2) enhanced Pavlovian inhibition across all ADHD patients after TAU+MBCT compared with TAU. Conclusion These findings offer new insights in the neurocognitive mechanisms of hyperactivity/impulsivity in ADHD and its treatment: We reveal a role for Pavlovian inhibitory mechanisms in understanding hyperactive/impulsive behaviors in ADHD and point toward MBCT as an intervention that might influence these mechanisms.
... However, unintentional and automatic social-emotional behaviour has not been investigated so far despite being highly relevant considering that human behaviour is significantly driven by unconscious, automatic action tendencies (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). Plus, studies in adults with high levels of affective traits of psychopathy (i.e. the adult model of CU-traits), have linked high rates of instrumental aggressive behaviour to alterations in automatic behaviour patterns (von Borries et al., 2012;Ly et al., 2016). Those studies used an approach-avoidance task (AAT) to measure automatic social behaviour. ...
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Background and objectives Conduct disorder (CD) is associated with deficits in social-emotional behaviour, such as increased levels of aggression. Callous-unemotional (CU-) traits foster those deficits and contribute to severe rates of instrumental aggression in CD. Previous studies of that increase in aggression have mainly focused on intentional aspects of behaviour. Unintentional behaviour, such as automatic approach and avoidance, has not been taken into account despite being highly relevant for behaviour. Therefore, the relevance of CU-traits for automatic actions and the feasibility of an approach-avoidance-task to measure those actions in CD-patients were investigated in a study series. Methods Study 1 22 CD-patients executed an approach-avoidance task, where participants pushed or pulled pictures of emotional faces using a joystick. CU-traits were assessed via parent-report. Study 2 28 CD-patients and 19 typically developing children (TD) executed the AAT. Again, CU-traits were assessed via parent-report. Results The AAT was a feasible instrument to measure automatic action tendencies and revealed that, while TD-children showed an avoidance bias towards angry faces, CD-patients showed a lack of automatic avoidance of anger. Across the whole sample (TD and CD combined), CU-traits predicted less threat avoidance. Limitations The small sample size may have limited the power to detect smaller approach-avoidance tendencies towards other emotions. Conclusions The findings suggest that CD is associated with a lack of automatic avoidance of social threat and that CU-traits predict that lack of avoidance. Divergent automatic threat responding might underlie the extreme levels of instrumentally aggressive behaviour observed in CD-patients with distinctive CU-traits.
... A possible explanation to the connection between CU traits and appetitive aggression could be found in Ly et al. (2016), where offenders with psychopathic tendencies (compared to healthy controls) were reported to be less dissuaded from aversive instrumental tasks when presented with aversive affective faces. Hence the distress on the faces of others did not prevent psychopathic persons from perpetrating painful acts. ...
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Appetitive aggression, marked by the derivation of positive affect from harming others has been observed mostly among youths in societies experiencing extreme violence. Perpetrators report craving violence, and find the process and actual infliction of harm relishing. Because this dimension of aggression is relatively new, studies have barely examined likely psychological correlates of this phenomenon. In this study, we considered the associations between callous-unemotional (CU) traits as well as violent cognition, with appetitive aggression in young offenders. Male youth offenders (n = 188) from 2 detention facilities in Northern and the Niger Delta regions of Nigeria completed measures of appetitive aggression, CU traits, and violent-supportive cognition. Demographic information regarding their offences were collected from official records and corroborated with self-reports. CU traits were related to the perpetration of appetitive aggression. Offenders who endorsed machismo beliefs that portrays aggression as a masculine characteristic and a fitting response to threats were more likely to report the enjoyment of aggression. There was a mediation effect of machismo thinking on the relationship between CU traits and appetitive aggression. The study finds that, like other known types of aggression, CU traits and machismo thinking are associated with appetitive aggression, and invites future studies to investigate other correlates of this pattern of aggression.
... Both automatic freeze-fi ght-fl ight tendencies and more instrumental approach and avoidance biases have been suggested to play a prominent role in the maintenance and perhaps even cause of psychopathology ( Blanchard et al., 2011 ;Rudaz, Ledermann, Margraf, Becker, & Craske, 2017 ;Turk, Lerner, Heimberg, & Rapee, 2001 ;Wong & Moulds, 2011 ). Aggression, for instance, has been conceptualized as a defensive response system in which automatic fi ghtresponses are triggered too easily and in which instrumental threat-approach tendencies become well-learned and rewarded ( Blair, 2013 ;Blanchard et al., 2011 ;Ly et al., 2016 ). On the contrary, persistent avoidance in anxiety disorders has been thought of as a defensive response system in which automatic fl ight -response are easily triggered and in which instrumental threat-avoidance tendencies become rewarded and well learned ( Blanchard et al., 2011 ). ...
... Specifically, participants were cued with the beverage labels informing them which beverage they were working for. Affective stimuli have been shown to facilitate or suppress instrumental responses (Geurts et al., 2013;Guitart-Masip et al., 2014;Talmi et al., 2008), even in priming studies, i.e., when the affective stimulus preceded the target instructing a response (Ly et al., 2016;Ly et al., 2014). Following a brief delay, participants responded to label-independent approach (i.e., pull joystick) and avoid (i.e., push joystick) instructions. ...
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Labels on food packages inform our beliefs, shaping our expectations of food properties, such as its expected taste and healthiness. These beliefs can influence the processing of caloric rewards beyond objective sensory properties and have the potential to impact decision making. However, no studies, within or beyond the food domain, have assessed how written information, such as food labels, affect implicit motivation to obtain rewards, even though choices in daily life might be strongly driven by implicit motivational biases. We investigated how written information affects implicit motivation to obtain caloric rewards in healthy young adults. We used food labels (high- and low-calorie), associated with an identical fruit-flavored sugar-sweetened beverage, to study motivation for caloric rewards during fMRI. In a joystick task, hungry participants (N = 31) were instructed to make fast approach or avoid movements to earn the cued beverages. Behaviorally, we found a general approach bias, which was stronger for the beverage that was most preferred during a subsequent choice test, i.e., the one labeled as low-calorie. This behavioral effect was accompanied by increased BOLD signal in the sensorimotor cortex during the response phase of the task for the preferred, low-calorie beverage compared with the non-preferred, high-calorie beverage. During the anticipation phase, the non-preferred, high-calorie beverage label elicited stronger fMRI signal in the right ventral anterior insula, a region associated with aversion and taste intensity, than the preferred, low-calorie label. Together, these data suggest that high-calorie labeling can increase avoidance of beverages and reduce neural activity in brain regions associated with motor control. In conclusion, we show effects of food labeling on fMRI responses during anticipation and subsequent motivated action and on behavior, in the absence of objective taste differences, demonstrating the influence of written information on implicit biases. These findings contribute to our understanding of implicit biases in real-life eating behavior.
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Recent advances in computational behavioral modeling can help rigorously quantify differences in how individuals learn behaviors that affect both themselves and others. But social learning remains understudied in the context of understanding individual variation in social phenomena like aggression, which is defined by persistent engagement in behaviors that harm others. We adapted a go/no-go reinforcement learning task across social and non-social contexts such that monetary gains and losses explicitly impacted the subject, a study partner, or no one. We then quantified participants’ (n = 61) sensitivity to others’ rewards, sensitivity to others’ losses, and the Pavlovian influence of expected outcomes on approach and avoidance behavior. Results showed that subjects learned in response to punishments and rewards that affected their partner in a way that was computationally similar to how they learned for themselves, consistent with the possibility that social learning engages empathic processes. Further supporting this interpretation, an individualized model parameter that indexed sensitivity to others’ punishments was inversely associated with trait antisociality. Modeled sensitivity to others’ losses also mapped onto post-task motivation ratings, but was not associated with self-reported trait empathy. This work is the first to apply a social reinforcement learning task that spans affect and action requirement (go/no-go) to measure multiple facets of empathic sensitivity.
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FRICKE, K. and S. Vogel. How interindividual differences shape approach-avoidance behavior: Relating self-report and diagnostic measures of interindividual differences to behavioral measurements of approach and avoidance. NEUROSCI BIOBEHAV REV XX(X) XXX-XXX, XXXX. -Responding to stimuli in ambiguous environments is partially governed by approach-avoidance tendencies. Imbalances in these approach-avoidance behaviors are implicated in many mental disorders including anxiety disorders, phobias and substance use disorders. While factors biasing human behavior in approach-avoidance conflicts have been researched in numerous experiments, a much-needed comprehensive overview integrating those findings is missing. Here, we systematically searched the existing literature on individual differences in task-based approach-avoidance behavior and aggregated the current evidence for the effect of self-reported approach/avoidance traits, anxiety and anxiety disorders, specific phobias, depression, aggression, anger and psychopathy, substance use and related disorders, eating disorders and habits, trauma, acute stress and, finally, hormone levels (mainly testosterone, oxytocin). We highlight consistent findings, underrepresented research areas and unexpected results, and detail the amount of controversy between studies. We discuss potential reasons for ambiguous results in some research areas, offer practical advice for future studies and highlight potential variables such as task-related researcher decisions that may influence how interindividual differences and disorders drive automatic approach-avoidance biases in behavioral experiments.
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Decision-making has many different definitions and is measured in varied ways using neuropsychological tasks. Offenders with mental disorder habitually make disadvantageous decisions, but no study has systematically appraised the literature. This review aimed to clarify the field by bringing together different neuropsychological measures of decision-making, and using meta-analysis and systematic review to explore the performance of offenders with mental disorders on neuropsychological tasks of decision-making. A structured search of PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, Medline, Cinahl was conducted with additional hand searching and grey literature consulted. Controlled studies of decision-making in offenders with evidence of any mental disorder, including a validated measure of decision-making were included. Total score on each relevant decision-making task was collated. Twenty-three studies met inclusion criteria (n = 1820), and 10 studies (with 15 experiments) were entered into the meta-analysis (n = 841). All studies included in the meta-analysis used the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) to measure decision-making. Systematic review findings from individual studies showed violent offenders made poorer decisions than matched offender groups or controls. An omnibus meta-analysis was computed to examine performance on IGT in offenders with mental disorder compared with controls. Additionally, two sub-group meta-analyses were computed for studies involving offenders with personality disorder and psychopathy, and recidivists who were convicted of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Individual studies not included in the meta-analysis partially supported the view that offenders make poorer decisions. However, the meta-analyses showed no significant differences in performance on IGT between the offender groups and controls. Further research is required to ascertain whether offenders with mental disorder have difficulty in making advantageous decisions. An analysis of cause and effect and various directions for future work are recommended to help understand the underpinning of these findings. Trial Registration: CRD42018088402.
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Given the long‐lasting detrimental effects of internalizing symptoms, there is great need for detecting early risk markers. One promising marker is freezing behavior. Whereas initial freezing reactions are essential for coping with threat, prolonged freezing has been associated with internalizing psychopathology. However, it remains unknown whether early life alterations in freezing reactions predict changes in internalizing symptoms during adolescent development. In a longitudinal study (N = 116), we tested prospectively whether observed freezing in infancy predicted the development of internalizing symptoms from childhood through late adolescence (until age 17). Both longer and absent infant freezing behavior during a standard challenge (robot‐confrontation task) were associated with internalizing symptoms in adolescence. Specifically, absent infant freezing predicted a relative increase in internalizing symptoms consistently across development, from relatively low symptom levels in childhood to relatively high levels in late adolescence. Longer infant freezing also predicted a relative increase in internalizing symptoms, but only up until early adolescence. This latter effect was moderated by peer stress and was followed by a later decrease in internalizing symptoms. The findings suggest that early deviations in defensive freezing responses signal risk for internalizing symptoms and may constitute important markers in future stress vulnerability and resilience studies. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Freezing is a defensive response to acute stress that is associated with coping and alterations in attentional processing. However, it remains unclear whether individuals in high risk professions, who are skilled at making rapid decisions in emergency situations, show altered threat-induced freezing. Here we investigated the effect of incident experience in a high risk profession on freezing. Additionally, we explored whether any effect of incident experience on freezing would be different for profession-related and -unrelated threat. Forty experienced and inexperienced firefighters were presented neutral, pleasant, related-unpleasant, and unrelated-unpleasant pictures in a passive viewing task. Postural sway and heart rate were assessed to determine freezing. Both postural and heart rate data evidenced reduced freezing upon unpleasant pictures in the experienced versus the inexperienced group. Relatedness of the unpleasant pictures did not modulate these effects. These findings indicate that higher incident experience relates to decreased threat-induced freezing, at least in a passive task context. This might suggest that primary defense responses are malleable through experience. Finally, these findings demonstrate the potential of using animal to human translational approaches to investigate defensive behaviors in relation to incident experience in high risk professions and stimulate future research on the role of freezing in resilience and coping.
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Psychopathic individuals are notorious for their controlled goal-directed aggressive behavior. Yet, during social challenges, they often show uncontrolled emotional behavior. Healthy individuals can control their social emotional behavior through anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) downregulation of neural activity in the amygdala, with testosterone modulating aPFC-amygdala coupling. This study tests whether individual differences in this neuroendocrine system relate to the paradoxical lack of emotional control observed in human psychopathic offenders. Emotional control was operationalized with an fMRI-adapted approach-avoidance task requiring rule-driven control over rapid emotional responses. Fifteen psychopathic offenders and 19 matched healthy control subjects made approaching and avoiding movements in response to emotional faces. Control of social emotional behavior was required during affect-incongruent trials, when participants had to override affect-congruent, automatic action tendencies and select the opposite response. Psychopathic offenders showed less control-related aPFC activity and aPFC-amygdala coupling during trials requiring control of emotional actions, when compared with healthy control subjects. This pattern was particularly pronounced in psychopathic individuals with high endogenous testosterone levels. These findings suggest that reduced prefrontal coordination underlies reduced behavioral control in psychopathic offenders during emotionally provoking situations. Even though the modest sample size warrants replication, the modulatory role of endogenous testosterone on the aPFC-amygdala circuit suggests a neurobiological substrate of individual differences that is relevant for the advancement of treatment and the reduction of recidivism.
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The authors evaluated competing theories that attribute psychopathic individuals' poor passive avoidance to a strong activating system, a weak inhibitory system, or poor modulation of behavioral activation when inhibitory cues appear. In Study 1, the continuous motor task involved a reward phase to elicit the activating system followed by a passive avoidance phase. Study 2 tested the generality of the theories by using an active avoidance phase to elicit the activating system. Heart rate and response speed results from Study 1 best supported the strong activating system and poor response modulation models in low-anxiety psychopathic offenders. Study 2 results did not clearly support any of the models. Further research is needed to determine if excessive activation by reward and poor response modulation are associated with passive avoidance deficits and other characteristics of low-anxiety psychopathic offenders.
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Aggressive behavior is traditionally classified into two subtypes, impulsive and premeditated aggression. The Impulsive/Premeditated Aggression Scale (IPAS) is a self-report questionnaire to measure a person's tendency towards these subtypes of aggressive behavior. This study reports on the psychometric quality of the Dutch translation of the IPAS in a sample of 149 male and 70 female prisoners in the Netherlands. Confirmatory Factor Analysis yielded two factors with an item composition quite similar to those found in previous studies: impulsive aggression, 17 items; premeditated aggression, 13 items. For both factors reliable subscales could be composed for males and females: impulsive aggression αmales = .92, αfemales = .94; premeditated aggression αmales = .90 and αfemales = .91. The subscales were highly correlated: r males = .70, r females = .75. It is concluded that the underlying structure of the Dutch version of the IPAS is similar to the original version of the questionnaire, that internal consistency of the two subscales is good, and that the correlation between the two subscales is higher than previously reported. Possible reasons for the high correlation of the subscales are discussed. Additional studies are needed to establish the construct and criterion/predictive validity of the IPAS in the forensic field.
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