Changing perception: A randomized controlled trial of emotion recognition training to reduce anger and aggression in violent offenders

NIKI Kuin, Erik Masthoff, Marcus Munafo, Vibeke Nunnink, Ian Penton-Voak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Objective: To determine whether emotion recognition training, which previously proved to be effective in adolescents, also reduces anger and aggression in adult violent offenders. Method: Detained male adults were randomized to complete either a 1-week computer training designed to promote the perception of happiness over anger in ambiguous facial expressions (n = 46), or a sham training control procedure (n = 44). Outcome measures were collected immediately after training and at 6-week follow-up, and included the number of faces that were rated as happy rather than angry, self-reported and observed measures of hostility, aggression and prosocial behaviour. The linear regression analyses were statistically corrected for age and presence of (mild) intellectual disability. Results: The training procedure was highly effective in promoting the perception of happiness over anger in the training group as compared to the controls, independent of age or intelligence (95% CI -4.6 to -2.8, p < 0.001). These training effects remained at six weeks post training (95% CI -3.4 to -1.8, p < 0.001). There was no clear change in measures of aggression and hostility, or prosocial behaviour. Conclusions: In contrast to two prior studies with adolescent samples, the present study showed no meaningful impact of the training procedure on aggression in adult offenders, even though the training was effective in altering emotion perception. This may be due to low statistical power, or a lack of generalization of perception of happiness to faces in daily life encounters, or because emotion recognition bias is not causally related to aggression.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology of Violence
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 Sep 2019

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition
  • Tobacco and Alcohol


  • offenders
  • randomized controlled trial
  • hostile attribution bias
  • emotion recognition
  • aggression treatment

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