Childhood Trauma and Aggression in Persons Convicted for Homicide: An Exploratory Study Examines the Role of Plasma Oxytocin

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Abstract

Evidence has demonstrated the association between childhood trauma and criminality in adulthood, however, less is known about how best to explain the route from childhood trauma to adulthood aggression. Results from both human and animal studies have generated the hypothesis that dysfunction of the oxytocinergic system may correlate with pathological aggression. The current study represents a first exploratory examination to investigate the trajectory from childhood trauma to aggression, specifically, plasma oxytocin's role in this association. We assessed the childhood trauma experiences in a total of 108 participants, including 33 persons convicted for homicide and 75 non-offending healthy participants, using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, with in-depth clarification interviews for cross-validation. All participants were checked for aggression using the Modified Overt Aggression Scale and their plasma oxytocin levels were obtained. Results indicated that persons convicted for homicide had higher childhood trauma scores and lower plasma oxytocin levels than healthy controls. The plasma oxytocin levels were inversely correlated with childhood trauma in all participants. Further mediation models were constructed to explore these associations, in the best-fit model, the relationship between childhood trauma and aggression is mediated by plasma oxytocin levels in persons convicted for homicide. In conclusion, the association between childhood trauma and aggression of persons convicted for homicide is mediated by their plasma oxytocin levels. With leading to further theoretical consideration in the causality on how best to explain the interaction between childhood trauma and aggression, the current study may assist in developing further research and preventive strategies for aggression, particularly the importance of early identification of childhood trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Article number719282
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 17 2021

Keywords

  • aggression
  • childhood trauma and adversity
  • homicide
  • oxytocin
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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