Parent-target similarity as a stimulus for aggression in adult children of alcoholics

Jay T. Moak


The purpose of this study was to compare adult children of men alcoholics (COAs) to other adults on a laboratory measure of aggression. Participants (total N = 90) were allowed to press a button that purportedly delivered an unpleasant noise to headphones that were worn by two unseen targets, one of whom was described similarly to each participant's biological father. The two targets, who were actually fictional, were purportedly engaged in a task that required concentration and fine motor skills, and for which they could lose accumulated monetary rewards if they were sufficiently distracted by the noise. The dependent variables were number and duration of button presses. It was hypothesized that the COA Group would be more aggressive overall, and that COAs, but not Non-COAs, would direct more aggression toward the Father-Similar Target. Contrary to the hypotheses, there was a significant Group X Target interaction, in which the Father-Similar Target elicited greater duration of button presses by the Non-COA Group than by the COA Group. There was no significant main effect for either Group or Target. The laboratory measures could not be validated, because they did not correlate with previously-validated, self-report measures of aggression. Men scored higher than did women, on both of the laboratory measures, and on the Physical Aggression and the Verbal Aggression Scales of the Aggression Questionnaire. There were no group differences on any of the self-report aggression measures. Multiple regression analyses of the self-report data revealed that respondents' own alcohol use, but not paternal alcoholism, nor years of cohabitation with their biological fathers, was a significant predictor of aggression on the Aggression Questionnaire Anger Scale and Total Aggression Scale, and on the Aggression Subscale of the Adjective Checklist. Years of cohabitation, not paternal alcoholism, was a significant predictor of participant score on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). Years of cohabitation and AUDIT score were positively correlated. Results appear consistent with some previous studies that found COAs to be no more aggressive than non-COAs.