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An ERP study on hostile attribution bias in aggressive and nonaggressive individuals

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Aggressive Behavior

Published online on


Hostile attribution bias (e.g., tendency to interpret the intention of others as hostile in ambiguous social contexts) has been associated with impulsive aggression in adults, but the results are mixed and the complete sequence of hostile inferential processes leading to aggression has not been investigated yet. The goal of this event‐related brain potentials (ERPs) study was to track the neural activity associated with the violation of expectations about hostile versus nonhostile intentions in aggressive and nonaggressive individuals and examine how this neural activity relates to self‐reported hostile attributional bias and impulsive aggression in real life. To this end, scenarios with a hostile versus nonhostile social context followed by a character's ambiguous aversive behavior were presented to readers, and ERPs to critical words that specified the hostile versus nonhostile intent behind the behavior were analysed. Thirty‐seven aggressive and fifty nonaggressive individuals participated in the study. The presentation of a critical word that violated hostile expectation caused an N400 response that was significantly larger in aggressive than nonaggressive individuals. Results also showed an enhanced late positive potential‐like component in aggressive individuals when hostile intention scenarios took place in a nonhostile context, which is associated with impulsive aggression in real life even after having controlled for the effect of self‐reported hostile attributional bias. The Hostile Expectancy Violation paradigm evaluated in this study represents a promising tool to investigate the relationship between the online processing of hostile intent in others and impulsive aggression. Aggr. Behav. 43:217–229, 2017. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.