Physical aggression and attentional bias to angry faces: An event related potential study

Rebecca V. Crago, Louis Renoult, Laura Biggart, Gavin Nobes, Tamara Satmarean, Jennifer O. Bowler

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This study aimed to identify the neural correlates of aggression-related attentional selectivity to angry faces in physical aggression. Physical aggression in a non-clinical sample of young men (N = 36) was measured using an aggression questionnaire. Visual attentional bias to angry faces was assessed using a dot-probe task during which angry and neutral faces were presented simultaneously, and EEG was recorded. Median split and correlational analyses were conducted to assess the relationship between physical aggression and attentional bias. Behavioural results indicated that higher levels of physical aggression were associated with greater attentional bias to angry faces. ERP results revealed an interaction where males with higher physical aggression had undifferentiated P3 amplitudes to angry and neutral trials, whereas low physical aggression males exhibited greater P3 amplitude to angry than to neutral trials (effect of probe congruency). Increased levels of physical aggression were also significantly correlated with increased P3 amplitude to probes replacing neutral faces, relative to angry faces. It was concluded that the aggressive males selectively attend to angry faces, and that attentional bias is characterized by undifferentiated P3 amplitude. We propose that this results from an inferior ability to downregulate competing angry face distractors when responding to probes replacing neutral faces (as reflected by the P3 response). These findings indicate that attentional bias to angry faces in individuals with higher physical aggression is characterized by a distinctive ERP signature; this could inform the development of therapeutic interventions seeking to reduce aggression.
Original languageEnglish
Article number146387
JournalBrain Research
Early online date29 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2019


  • physical aggression
  • attentional bias
  • angry faces
  • event-related potential
  • P3

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