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Impact of physical maltreatment on the regulation of negative affect and aggression

  • Jessica E. Shackman (a1) and Seth D. Pollak (a1)

Physically maltreated children are at risk for developing externalizing behavioral problems characterized by reactive aggression. The current experiment tested the relationships between individual differences in a neural index of social information processing, histories of child maltreatment, child negative affect, and aggressive behavior. Fifty boys (17 maltreated) performed an emotion recognition task while the P3b component of the event-related potential was recorded to index attention allocation to angry faces. Children then participated in a peer-directed aggression task. Negative affect was measured by recording facial electromyography, and aggression was indexed by the feedback that children provided to a putative peer. Physically maltreated children exhibited greater negative affect and more aggressive behavior, compared to nonmaltreated children, and this relationship was mediated by children's allocation of attention to angry faces. These data suggest that physical maltreatment leads to inappropriate regulation of both negative affect and aggression, which likely place maltreated children at increased risk for the development and maintenance of externalizing behavior disorders.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Seth D. Pollak, Department of Psychology and Waisman Center, 1500 Highland Avenue, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI 53705; E-mail:
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