Emotionality, Emotion Understanding, and Emotion Regulation

Since the publication of early seminal work on frustration and aggression (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939) many authors continue to emphasize the role of emotions in the etiology of aggression (e.g., Baumeister & Bushman, 2007; Beck, 1999; Bernard, 1990; Huesmann & Eron, 1992). Strangely, emotions are rarely acknowledged in the criminological literature on violence.

One might speculate, given what we know about brain plasticity and the programming model, that a sensitive period for affective development exists, and that affectional, emotional interactions set the stage for later emotional life. The programming model might suggest many examples; for example, the lack of proper emotional stimulation in infancy may lead to long-t erm overresponsiveness, given that the infant’s nervous system has been set at low levels. The brain seems to be designed for a range of possible emotional lives, and it could be reasoned that low levels of emotional interaction during a sensitive period would lead to the loss of synapses needed for processing future emotional exchanges. Though we could postulate that an enriched emotional life might change this, there is no empirical data to tell us if this is so. There are three aspects of human emotionality that bear upon the question of whether a particular individual is likely to commit a serious violent act or to be persistently violent: negative emotionality, emotion understanding, and emotion regulation.

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