Emotion Regulation in Reactive and Proactive Aggression: Autonomic Nervous System Responding during Emotion Regulation


Student thesis: Master's Thesis

View graph of relations


  • Xin LIU


Awarding Institution
Award date12 Sep 2016


Existing evidence suggests that the proactive and reactive aggression are distinctly correlated to arousal level and emotional regulatory capacity, which is reflected in the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). However, it is still unclear how arousal level and emotional regulatory capacity influence the ANS response under certain emotion regulation conditions in reactive and proactive aggression. To fill in this knowledge gap, the responses of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), indexed by skin conductance level (SCL), and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), to conditions of negative emotion induction and negative emotion suppression were investigated. One hundred and twenty-seven aggressive children were invited to watch two continuous negative emotional film clips while modulating their facial expression by either (a) facially expressing the feelings of the characters in the clips (i.e., emotion induction) or (b) suppressing their facial expression and not letting others know their feelings (i.e., emotion suppression). The associations between ANS responses under the two emotion regulation conditions and the scores for reactive and proactive aggression were examined.
Hypotheses about SNS responses indexed by SCL were supported across the two emotion regulation conditions: physiologically, proactive aggression was characterized by under-arousal, and reactive aggression was characterized by hyper- arousal. Less evidence was found for associations between PNS responses indexed by RSA and the subtypes of aggression. These findings shed light on the psychophysiological aspects of reactive and proactive aggression under these two important emotion regulation conditions, and suggest explanations for how children displaying aggressive behavior respond physiologically when they try to regulate their emotion.