Empathic deficits and alexithymia in trauma-related impulsive aggression

Behav Sci Law. 2008;26(6):823-32. doi: 10.1002/bsl.843.


Our long term interest is to develop a developmental model of impulsive aggression based on a confluence of social, psychological and biological features. This approach incorporates neurobiological research, which has identified language processing deficits as a unique characteristic of impulsive aggressors and extends it to include emotional deficits. As an initial test of this hypothesis, we examined whether empathy and alexithymia were associated with impulsive aggression. Regressions were performed to explore the associations among impaired empathy, alexithymia, impulsive aggression, verbal and physical general aggression. Among impulsive aggressive veterans (n=38) recruited from a VA trauma clinic, alexithymia predicted impulsive aggression and empathic deficits predicted verbal aggression. Neither emotional awareness deficit predicted general physical aggression in this middle-aged sample. Results suggested that empathic deficits were associated with general verbal aggression, but alexithymia was uniquely associated with impulsive aggression. Consideration of alexithymia in impulsive aggression has implications for its etiology, prevention and treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / complications*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / complications
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / complications*
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Tests
  • Regression Analysis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Texas
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology