Too (mentally) busy to chill: Cognitive load and inhibitory cues interact to moderate triggered displaced aggression

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Vasquez, Eduardo A. ; Howard-Field, Joanna (2016)

Inhibitory information can be expected to reduce triggered displaced aggression by signaling the potential for negative consequences as a result of acting aggressively. We examined how cognitive load might interfere with these aggression-reducing effects of inhibitory cues. Participants (N = 80) were randomly assigned to a condition in a 2 (cognitive load: high/low) × 2 (inhibiting cues: yes/no) between-subjects design. Following procedures in the TDA paradigm, participants received an initial provocation from the experimenter and a subsequent triggering annoyance from another individual. In the inhibitory cue condition, participants were told, before they had the opportunity to aggress, that others would learn of their aggressive responses. In the high cognitive load condition, participants rehearsed a 10-digit number while aggressing. Those in the low cognitive load condition rehearsed a three digit number. We found significant main effects of cognitive load and inhibitory cue, which were qualified by the expected load × inhibitory cue interaction. Thus, inhibitory cues reduced displaced aggression under low-cognitive load. However, when participants in the inhibitory cue condition were under cognitive load, aggression increased, suggesting that mental busyness interfered with the full use of inhibitory information.
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