The Cycle of Violence: Associations Between Exposure to Violence, Trauma-Related Symptoms and Aggression—Findings from Congolese Refugees in Uganda

Article Authors: Tobias Hecker, Simon Fetz Herbert Ainamani, and Thomas Elbert2,


War-related trauma exposure has been linked to aggression and enhanced levels of community and family violence, suggesting a cycle of violence. Reactive aggression—an aggressive reaction to a perceived threat—has been associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In contrast, appetitive aggression—a hedonic, intrinsically motivated form of aggression—seems to be negatively related to PTSD in offender and military populations. This study examined the associations between exposure to violence, trauma-related symptoms and aggression in a civilian population. In semistructured interviews, 290 Congolese refugees were questioned about trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms, and aggression. War-related trauma exposure correlated positively with exposure to family and community violence in the past month (r = .31, p < .001), and appetitive (r = .18, p = .002) and reactive aggression (r = .29, p < .001). The relationship between war-related trauma exposure and reactive aggressive behavior was mediated by PTSD symptoms and appetitive aggression. In a multiple sequential regression analysis, trauma exposure (? = .43, p < .001) and reactive aggression (? = .36, p < .001) were positively associated with PTSD symptoms, whereas appetitive aggression was negatively associated (? = ?.13, p = .007) with PTSD symptoms. Our findings were congruent with the cycle of violence hypothesis and indicate a differential relation between distinct subtypes of aggression and PTSD.

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