The cycle of violence as a function of PTSD and appetitive aggression : A longitudinal study with Burundian soldiers
2020-09, Nandi, Corina, Crombach, Anselm, Elbert, Thomas, Bambonye, Manassé, Pryss, Rüdiger, Schobel, Johannes, Weierstall‐Pust, Roland
During deployment, soldiers face situations in which they are not only exposed to violence but also have to perpetrate it themselves. This study investigates the role of soldiers' levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and appetitive aggression, that is, a lust for violence, for their engaging in violence during deployment. Furthermore, factors during deployment influencing the level of PTSD symptoms and appetitive aggression after deployment were examined for a better comprehension of the maintenance of violence. Semi‐structured interviews were conducted with 468 Burundian soldiers before and after a 1‐year deployment to Somalia. To predict violent acts during deployment (perideployment) as well as appetitive aggression and PTSD symptom severity after deployment (postdeployment), structural equation modeling was utilized. Results showed that the number of violent acts perideployment was predicted by the level of appetitive aggression and by the severity of PTSD hyperarousal symptoms predeployment. In addition to its association with the predeployment level, appetitive aggression postdeployment was predicted by violent acts and trauma exposure perideployment as well as positively associated with unit support. PTSD symptom severity postdeployment was predicted by the severity of PTSD avoidance symptoms predeployment and trauma exposure perideployment, and negatively associated with unit support. This prospective study reveals the importance of appetitive aggression and PTSD hyperarousal symptoms for the engagement in violent acts during deployment, while simultaneously demonstrating how these phenomena may develop in mutually reinforcing cycles in a war setting.
Is the Implicit Association Test for Aggressive Attitudes a Measure for Attraction to Violence or Traumatization?
2017-07, Bluemke, Matthias, Crombach, Anselm, Hecker, Tobias, Schalinski, Inga, Elbert, Thomas, Weierstall, Roland
Traumatic exposure is particularly devastating for those who, at a young age, have become combatants or experienced massive adversity after abduction by armed movements. We investigated the impact of traumatic stressors on psychopathology among war-affected young men of Northern Uganda, including former child soldiers. Adaptation to violent environments and coping with trauma-related symptoms often result in an increasing appetite for violence. We analyze implicit attitudes toward violence, assessed by an Implicit Association Test (IAT), among 64 male participants. Implicit attitudes varied as a function of the number of experienced traumatic event types and committed offense types. As the number of traumatic experiences and violence exposure increased, more appetitive aggression was reported, whereas the IAT indicated increasingly negative implicit attitudes toward aggression. The IAT was also the strongest predictor of cortisol levels. Diffusion-model analysis was the best way to demonstrate IAT validity. Implicit measures revealed the trauma-related changes of cognitive structures.
Appetitive Aggression in Women : Comparing Male and Female War Combatants
2016, Meyer-Parlapanis, Danie, Weierstall, Roland, Nandi, Corina, Bambonyé, Manassé, Elbert, Thomas, Crombach, Anselm
Appetitive aggression refers to positive feelings being associated with the perpetration of violent behavior and has been shown to provide resilience against the development of PTSD in combatants returning from the battlefield. Until this point, appetitive aggression has been primarily researched in males. This study investigates appetitive aggression in females. Female and male combatants and civilians from Burundi were assessed for levels of appetitive aggression. In contrast to non-combatants, no sex difference in appetitive aggression could be detected for combatants. Furthermore, each of the female and male combatant groups displayed substantially higher levels of appetitive aggression than each of the male and female civilian control groups. This study demonstrates that in violent contexts, such as armed conflict, in which individuals perpetrate numerous aggressive acts against others, the likelihood for an experience of appetitive aggression increases- regardless of whether the individuals are male or female.
Treating Traumatized Offenders and Veterans by Means of Narrative Exposure Therapy
2015, Hecker, Tobias, Hermenau, Katharin, Crombach, Anselm, Elbert, Thomas
Violent offenders and soldiers are at high risk of developing appetitive aggression and trauma-related disorders, which reduce successful integration into societies. Narrative Exposure Therapy for Forensic Offender Rehabilitation (FORNET) aims at reducing symptoms of traumatic stress (e.g. posttraumatic stress disorder) and controlling readiness for aggressive behavior. It follows the logic of the evidence-based trauma-focused Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) with special emphasis on violent acts in past and future behavior. In NET the therapist guides the client by means of exposure through his traumatic experiences in chronological order linking the negative emotions, such as fear, shame and disgust, to the past context and integrating the traumatic experiences into the autobiographical memory. During FORNET we also encourage verbalization of any positive emotions and experiences linked to past violent and aggressive behaviors. This recall of positive emotions (linked to the there and then) is contrasted with feelings that emerge during the narration process (here and now). In this way, the therapist helps the client to anchor the whole range of sensory and bodily experiences, cognitions, and emotions to the contextual cues. Over the process of the therapy we support the client to begin the role change from a violent offender to a citizen, who is capable of living a non-violent and socially adjusted life. Finally, the client develops visions and wishes for the future to support a successful integration into society. Several studies with veterans and violent youths have proven the feasibility of FORNET, found evidence of a positive outcome (recovered mental health, fewer offenses committed, less drug intake and improved integration into civil society), and highlighted the importance of addressing the whole range of experiences while treating violent offenders or veterans.
Predicting domestic and community violence by soldiers living in a conflict region
2017-11, Nandi, Corina, Elbert, Thomas, Bambonye, Manassé, Weierstall, Roland, Reichert, Manfred, Rukundo-Zeller, Anja C., Crombach, Anselm
Past research revealed war trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms as potential predictors for domestic and community violence in crisis regions and among soldiers in different armed conflicts. The impact of family violence and other adversities experienced in childhood as well as of a combat-enhanced appeal for aggressive behavior (appetitive aggression) remains to be specified.
In the present study, the authors separately predicted violence against children, intimate partner violence and community violence in 381 Burundian soldiers returning from foreign deployment and living in a post- conflict region. Using path analysis, they aimed to disentangle the independent contributions and pathways of the following variables: Exposure to war trauma and childhood familial violence, PTSD and depression symptom severity, and appetitive aggression.
Childhood familial violence had an independent effect on all contexts of violence and was the only significant predictor for violence against the soldiers’ own children. Intimate partner violence was additionally predicted by depression symptom severity, while community violence was additionally predicted by PTSD symptom severity and appetitive aggression.
Besides war-related mental ill-health and appetitive aggression, violent experiences during childhood development must not be overlooked as a factor fueling the cycle of violence in conflict regions.
Succumbing to the Call of Violence : Sex-Linked Development of Appetitive Aggression in Relation to Familial and Organized Violence
2017-05-09, Augsburger, Mareike, Meyer-Parlapanis, Danie, Elbert, Thomas, Nandi, Corina, Bambonye, Manassé, Crombach, Anselm
Appetitive aggression is the attraction to violent behavior, which can peak in the experience of a combat high. In various war and conflict scenarios, members of armed groups have reported developing a desire to hunt and even kill humans. More recently, we reported that the phenomenon has also been observed in female ex-combatants with varying participation in warfare. Despite recent investigations on risk factors for appetitive aggression, sex-specific pathways in the development of appetitive aggression have not yet been delineated. This study investigated moderation effects of sex on previously identified risk factors for appetitive aggression by means of regression analyses in a sample of individuals with varying degrees of warfare participation (overall sample, n = 602). First examining a sample characterized by backgrounds heterogeneous in both sociodemographic data and war experiences, the analysis was then replicated in a subsample of fighters active during the civil war (combatant sample, n = 109). In both samples, regression analyses revealed significant moderation effects of sex. Childhood maltreatment and traumatic events had positive associations on the development of appetitive aggression for males but a negative (childhood maltreatment) or no (traumatic events) association for females. Perpetrated events were more strongly correlated with appetitive aggression for females than for males. This pattern was pronounced for the combatant sample. These results are in favor of sex-linked pathways. In both sexes, appetitive aggression may have evolved as a biologically prepared response to cruel environments but might develop along different trajectories. The current study highlights the need for addressing appetitive aggression in order to support peace-building processes and emphasizes sex specific starting-points.
Appetitive aggression and its relation to posttraumatic stress in Burundian ex-combatants
2016, Nandi, Corina, Crombach, Anselm, Bambonye, Manassé, Elbert, Thomas, Weierstall, Roland
Former combatants have experienced many traumatic events and violence in their past. Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are prevalent among them, but at the same time, many combatants do not suffer from PTSD. Appetitive aggression—the perception of violent acts as appealing and exciting—was found to reduce the risk of developing PTSD symptoms in several studies with combatants of different countries. However, this protective influence waned when traumatization of combatants got too severe. The aim of the present study was to replicate previous findings in a sample of Burundian ex-combatants. The relationship between appetitive aggression and PTSD symptom severity was investigated, and a negative correlation between these variables was expected. On the basis of previous studies, we expected to find this relationship only after excluding the most traumatized participants. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 392 Burundian ex-combatants to assess traumatic event types, self-committed violent acts, PTSD symptom severity (PTSD Symptom Scale Interview) and appetitive aggression (Appetitive Aggression Scale). Appetitive aggression was not correlated with PTSD symptoms severity in the total sample. After the most severely traumatized participants were excluded, appetitive aggression was negatively related to PTSD symptom severity. The findings of the present study confirmed previous findings on the relationship between appetitive aggression and PTSD. Appetitive aggression was shown to lower PTSD symptom severity but is no ultimate protection against PTSD.
The individual contribution of DSM 5 symptom clusters of PTSD, life events, and childhood adversity to frontal oscillatory brain asymmetry in a large sample of active combatants
2017-10, Moran, James, Crombach, Anselm, Elbert, Thomas, Nandi, Corina, Bambonyé, Manassé, Wienbruch, Christian, Lommen, Ursula, Weierstall, Roland
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been linked to deviations in lateralized frontal functional oscillatory activity. This is possibly because left and right DLPFC have differential roles in regulating both memory and stress response, which are both dysfunctional in PTSD. However, previous results are heterogeneous, and could be attributable to individual symptom clusters, traumatic or aggressive life events, early life stress, or the interaction of these factors. In a large sample of active combatants (N=401), we regressed these factors on frontal electroencephalography (EEG) asymmetry across 5 frequency bands (delta: 2-4Hz; theta: 4-8Hz; alpha: 8-12Hz; beta: 12-24Hz; gamma: 24-48Hz). Negative cognition and mood was associated with stronger relative left delta and theta band power. Traumatic life events showed stronger right alpha and beta band power. Traumatic life events in interaction with hyperarousal predicted stronger relative right left-right imbalance (theta, alpha, and beta bands), whereas childhood adversity, in interaction with negative cognition and mood, predicted stronger relative left left-right imbalance (delta, theta, alpha and beta bands). The contribution of lateralized DLPFC dysfunction to PTSD is thus dependent on the individual complexities of subsymptom clusters and life history, and future studies need to take these factors into account.
Feasibility and Effectiveness of Narrative Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in a Context of Ongoing Violence in South Africa
2017, Hinsberger, Martina, Holtzhausen, Leon, Sommer, Jessica, Kaminer, Debra, Elbert, Thomas, Seedat, Soraya, Wilker, Sarah, Crombach, Anselm, Weierstall, Roland
Objective: In an observer-blinded intervention trial, we tested the reduction of posttraumatic stress symptoms, aggressive attitude, and behavior in young males living in a context of ongoing community and gang violence by means of (a) forensic offender rehabilitation narrative exposure therapy (FORNET), and (b) the cognitive-behavioral intervention "Thinking for a Change" (TFAC). A waiting list served as the control condition. Method: A total of 39 young men were included in the data analysis: 15 completed FORNET, 11 underwent cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and 13 were on a waiting list for later treatment. The primary efficacy endpoints were the PTSD Symptom Scale-Interview (PSS-I) severity score, the Appetitive Aggression Scale (AAS) score, and the number of perpetrated violent event types 8 months (on average) after treatment. Results: Only in the sample receiving FORNET were posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scores significantly reduced at the first follow-up (Cohen's d = -0.97) and significantly different from those of the control group (Cohen's d = -1.03). The changes in scores for appetitive aggression and perpetrated events were not significant for any of the treatment conditions. Conclusions: The study shows that trauma-focused treatment can reduce the psychological symptoms of posttraumatic stress even for individuals living under unsafe conditions in low-income urban communities. However, achieving changes in violent behavior within a context of ongoing violence may require more than the treatment of trauma-related suffering, confrontation with one's offenses, or cognitive-behavioral interventions.
Predictors of posttraumatic stress and appetitive aggression in active soldiers and former combatants
2015, Nandi, Corina, Crombach, Anselm, Bambonye, Manassé, Elbert, Thomas, Weierstall, Roland
Background: During the period between 1993 and 2005, the people of Burundi were trapped within a violent civil war. In post-conflict regions, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were found to be widespread. At the same time, combatants often reported having perceived committing violence as exciting and appealing, an experience referred to as appetitive aggression. Both of these phenomena hamper the building of a functional and peaceful society.
Objective: This study aims to investigate the factors that are associated with the level of PTSD and appetitive aggression in former and still active combatants.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 948 male Burundians: 556 active soldiers and 392 ex-combatants. PTSD symptom severity was assessed using the PTSD Symptom Scale Interview, while appetitive aggression was assessed using the Appetitive Aggression Scale.
Results: Linear regression analyses revealed that the number of traumatic events, childhood maltreatment, and their interaction predicted PTSD symptom severity, whereas self-committed violence did not. The number of traumatic events and self-committed violence were associated with appetitive aggression. Childhood maltreatment alone was not associated with appetitive aggression; however, its interaction with self-committed violence did predict appetitive aggression. When controlling for predictors, ex-combatants reported a higher degree of PTSD symptomatology, whereas active soldiers reported a higher degree of appetitive aggression.
Conclusion: We conclude that childhood maltreatment is an additional, significant risk factor that exacerbates the psychological consequences of violent conflicts. Self-committed violence may not necessarily engender trauma-related disorders, but is highly related to appetitive aggression.