Negative Emotionality

Emotions play a role in some aggressive and violent behavior. Although criminologists have largely ignored its role, emotion has been featured in psychological theory and empirical research on aggression for a long time (Loeber & Hay, 1997). Seminal work on frustration and aggression (Dollard et al., 1939) has been credited with initiating modern empirical work in this area (Baumeister & Bushman, 2007). Many authors in recent decades continue to emphasize the role of emotions in the etiology of aggression (e.g., Baumeister & Bushman, 2007; Beck, 1999; Bernard, 1990; Huesmann & Eron, 1992).

When psychologists discuss causes of aggression, foremost on their lists of factors are items such as “unpleasant events" (e.g., Bushman & Huesmann, 2010), frustration (e.g., Dollard et al., 1939), and anger (e.g., Scheff & Retzinger, 1991). From interviews conducted through the Ohio Life Course Study, Giordano (2010) found that delinquent youths often make the connection between their negative emotions, especially about their parents, and their own behavior (p. 150). Conventional wisdom holds that violent acts are much more likely than property crimes to be motivated by intense emotions such as anger, humiliation, and hurt feelings. High stress and physiological arousal have been implicated, occasionally, in the etiology of violence in the field of criminology (for example Bernard’s [1990] eloquent work on “angry aggression").

In addition, several authors have reported that children’s emotions are predictive of their compliance (e.g., Colombo, 2014; Kochanska & Murray, 2000; Laible & Thompson, 2000). Happier children are more receptive to their parents’ rules (Gershoff, 2002), so we also expect that insensitive, rejecting, or abusive parents who attempt to teach their children normative values and behavior will be less successful in doing so.

Three forms of negative emotionality have been found to be associated with aggression. Principally, anger is thought to be a powerful engine of aggression (Baumeister & Bushman, 2007). In fact, many other factors, such as drinking alcohol and watching media violence, have not produced aggression in experiments where anger was not induced (Baumeister & Bushman, 2007). There are many studies that show that anger and aggression are linked. Research has also revealed some subtleties in the frustration-aggression relationship, which implicate anger, such as the fact that only when frustrations are seen as unjustified do subjects become aggressive (Montada, 2007). Shame is also associated with aggression (Baumeister & Bushman, 2007). By contrast, guilt appears to reduce aggression (Baumeister & Bushman, 2007). People who lack guilt commit many of the most egregious crimes.

Anger and frustration can be caused by many forms of unpleasant events, including hot temperature, noise, pain, and provocation (Berkowitz, 1993). However, situational or environmental causes of anger do not tell the whole story. Although all humans can get angry, some individuals are prone to more intense anger (rage) or to more frequent anger. Of course, extreme circumstances may cause any individual to become intensely angry, but the probability of responding to a given situation with anger or rage is higher in some people than in others.

There is some indication that even infants vary, genetically, in the tendency for irritability (Loeber & Hay, 1997). Personality traits and substance use or abuse may influence emotional states as well (Montada, 2007). Importantly, people do not necessarily respond to the same situations with the same emotions (Baumeister & Bushman, 2007), which suggests that negative emotionality can be an enduring character trait.

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