Reactive and proactive aggression are seen as subtypes of generalized aggression. Reactive aggression is linked to negative outcomes and can stem from perceived threat. People with high levels of impulsivity and underlying anger tend to engage in this type of anger expression. Proactive aggression is a more manipulative type of aggression and is associated with individuals who exhibit interpersonal impairments, egocentric personalities, and narcissistic traits. However, more passive, proactive aggression can be just as damaging as reactive aggression. Anger can cause severe damage to relationships and quality of life. To address these specific types of anger, it is important to understand the characteristics that influence them. That precise issue was the focus of a recent study led by Leonardo Bobadilla of the Psychology Department at Western Carolina University. For his study, Bobadilla examined specific psychological traits and their relationship to both reactive and proactive aggression in a sample of 122 male and female participants.
Bobadilla assessed certain executive functions and administered skin-conductance response tests to all the participants after they were prompted with manipulated threat scenarios. He found that the male participants with the lowest levels of anxiety toward punishment and threat engaged in the highest levels of proactive aggression. Character traits such as egocentric personalities and manipulation were evident in these men, but not in the women. Men with indications of narcissism and self-absorption were more likely to engage in reactive aggression. For women, both narcissism and self-absorption were related to reactive aggression that was manifested indirectly and directly. Bobadilla believes these findings can help clinicians working to resolve varying levels of anger in clients. However, more research needs to be conducted to better identify the unique and independent factors that contribute to these subtypes of anger, especially in women who display unprovoked anger. He added, “These data point to factors that uniquely influence each aggression subtype and their co-occurrence, and highlight the role of gender in the expression of aggression.”
Bobadilla, L., Wampler, M., Taylor, J. (2012). Proactive and reactive aggression are associated with different physiological and personality profiles. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31.5, 458-487.
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