The pleasure of being, aggressive in male incarcerated

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The Open Criminology Journal, 2009, 2, 1-9


Open Access

The Pleasure of Being Aggressive in Male Incarcerated Criminals
J. Martín Ramírez*,1,†, Luis Millana1, Maria P. Toldos-Romero2, M.-Claude Bonniot-Cabanac3 and Michel Cabanac3

Universidad Complutense Madrid, 2Universidad de Alcalá, 3Université Laval Québec
Abstract: Maximization of pleasure (hedonicity) is a major mechanismin human decision-making by optimizing behavior, as previous research has shown on both sensory pleasure and purely mental pleasure (such as playing videogames or solving mathematical problems). Our group also documented that pleasure is a major factor in decision-making in social situations related to interpersonal aggression: people tend to make aggressive behavioral decisions as a function ofthe resulting pleasure. The present study tried to verify whether this trend was also found in inmates. To our knowledge, this is the first investigation on the relationship between pleasure and aggression performed in a prison. Fifty three male inmates in a Spanish prison condemned for severe legal transgressions and serving long detention were compared with seventy five male university studentswho served as controls. They responded to self-reported questionnaires devised to examine how hedonicity influences decision-making in the case of aggressiveness. Socially conflictive situations were described, with four alternative options ranging from passive to highly aggressive response. A similar bell-shaped trend was present in both populations -aggressive behaviors of medium intensity wererated as significantly less unpleasant than the most passive and most aggressive behaviors-, even though the degree of hedonicity was significantly higher in the inmates, who rated mild and moderate aggressive responses as pleasurable. Inmates also voted for an unexpected lower of aggressiveness than controls, which may be explained by social desirability. Conclusion: the sametrend is found in bothpopulations: mild aggressive behavior may be pleasurable to the aggressor, but only up to a certain level. But this seems to be stronger in inmates: they showed hedonicity when experiencing higher level of aggression. Such a result is consistent with a fundamental role of hedonicity in decision making.

Keywords: Aggressiveness, hedonicity, emotion, prison immates, decision making. INTRODUCTIONThe general purpose of the present study is to offer relevant evidence on the paramount role of hedonicity (pleasure or displeasure) in decision-making about violence. The specific population under study was prison inmates because these subjects are especially important in aggression research. For example, a sample of criminals would be expected to contain more aggressive persons than would bepredicted by the base rate for aggression in the general population (Barratt & Slaughter, 1998). And prison inmates are also believed to be more prone to violence than the general population. People make countless decisions every day, ranging from ones that are barely noticed and soon forgotten, to others that are highly consequential. In addition to having practical significance, decision-makingplays a central role in many academic disciplines: virtually all the social sciences -including psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and law- rely on models of decision-making behavior. This combination of practical and scholarly factors has motivated great interest in how decisions are and should
*Address correspondence to this author at the Psychobiology Department, UniversidadComplutense Madrid, Pico de la Pala 6, 28792 Miraflores de la Sierra, Spain; Tel: 34 918 444 695; E-mail:

be made. Research has uncovered substantial and systematic regularities in how people make decisions and has led to the formulation of general psychological principles that characterize decision-making behavior (LeBoeuf & Shafir, 2005). A review of the behavioral...
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