Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Peter Hoaken


Purpose: Interpersonal violence exacts a high cost on society, both in terms of its impact on victims and its associated financial burden. To better understand the heterogeneity of violence, forensic researchers often distinguish between reactive violence, which occurs in response to provocation, and instrumental violence, which is goal-oriented. Although these subtypes of aggression have been associated with unique psychosocial vulnerabilities in samples of children or community adults, the current study examined whether this pattern of divergence generalized to an adult correctional sample. Method: Participants were 151 adult male federal inmates. Inmates completed self-report measures of childhood maltreatment, social-cognitive processing, and impulsivity, and their files were reviewed to determine their levels of psychopathy and alcohol problems, as well as their frequency of each type of violent offending. Results: The divergent validity of the reactive-instrumental distinction was evaluated through negative binomial regression and hierarchical linear modeling, which tested whether the hypothesized risk factors were related to the rates and odds of different types of violence. Across these analytic approaches and while controlling for potential confounds, reactive and instrumental violence were associated with distinct psychosocial profiles: Whereas reactive violence was related to anger, hostility-related cognitions, and alcohol problems, instrumental violence was associated with childhood maltreatment and positive outcome expectancies regarding crime. The only variables that were significantly related to the rates of both types of violence reflected schemas of entitlement and the affective deficits of psychopathy. In contrast, the impulsivity-related traits were unrelated to the rates or odds of either type of violence. Discussion: The observed divergence between subtypes of violence was generally consistent with hypotheses, providing strong support for the clinical utility of the reactive-instrumental distinction in adulthood. These findings have implications for refining theories of subtypes of violence, as well as for developing more specialized rehabilitation programs that better match the varying motives and needs of different types of violent offenders. Future research with a longitudinal design would help to clarify whether a causal interpretation of the current findings is warranted.