Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Charles Collyer

Abstract

Reactive aggression is retaliatory behavior in response to a transgression from another, especially when self-control is compromised through cognitive exhaustion. This defensive reaction is especially pronounced when the transgression is made public, increasing the intensity of the status-threat experienced, but research is mixed on whether this is due to the experience of shame or damage to self-esteem. Self-affirmation has been used in a variety of studies to reduce defensiveness and increase prosocial behavior, but there have been no studies to explore the effects of self-affirmation on reactive aggression in non-clinical populations. Drawing from an undergraduate college student population (N=101), the present study examined the effects of self-affirmation and cognitive depletion tasks on the propensity to react aggressively in the Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP), while measuring changes in implicit experiential state shame (ESS). State shame was found to be related to aggressive reaction; this shame was exacerbated by cognitive depletion and mediated by self-affirmation. The effects found were weak in a mixed sex sample, and this may be due to how males are differentially affected by the self-affirmation task, particularly when they are from a college student population. Gender differences and a critique of how aggression is operationally defined in research are discussed as confounding variables and suggested as potential areas for future research.

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