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Alcohol Intoxicated Witnesses: Perception of Aggression and Guilt in Intimate Partner Violence

Journal article
Authors Malin Hildebrand Karlén
Emma Roos Af Hjelmsäter
Claudia Fahlke
Pär-Anders Granhag
Anna Söderpalm Gordh
Published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Volume 32
Issue 22
Pages 3448-3474
ISSN 0886-2605
Publication year 2017
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Department of Psychology
Pages 3448-3474
Language en
Keywords alcohol, intoxication, eyewitness, perception, aggression, guilt, intimate partner violence
Subject categories Psychology


Many witnesses to violent crimes are alcohol intoxicated, but research is lacking regarding how alcohol affects their perception of aggression and guilt. This study investigated to what extent alcohol intoxicated eyewitnesses differed from sober witnesses regarding how aggressive and guilty they perceived the involved parts in an intimate partner violence (IPV) situation. Eighty-seven healthy men (n = 44) and women (n = 43) were randomized to an alcohol group (0.7 g/kg) or a non-alcohol group. In a laboratory setting, alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks were consumed before viewing a film depicting IPV between a man and a woman. Ten min after viewing, in an interview, the participants rated how aggressive and guilty they perceived the involved parts to be. Alcohol intoxicated participants perceived both parts’ physically aggressive behavior as comparatively less severe, but their neutral behavior as more hostile. Sober witnesses perceived the man to be the most guilty part, whereas intoxicated witnesses distributed guilt more evenly. Alcohol had a strong but complex impact on the perception of aggression in IPV (i.e., heightened during the neutral interaction and lowered during physical aggression). These results may be explained by the cognitive consequences of alcohol’s anxiety-dampening effects. Regarding the asymmetric difference in perceived guilt, stereotypical expectations of gender-appropriate behavior in an IPV situation may need to be considered.

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